The University of Southampton
Engineering and the Environment
(023) 8059 4139

Professor Robert Nicholls BSc PhD

Professor of Coastal Engineering

Professor Robert Nicholls's photo
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Professor Robert Nicholls is Professor of Coastal Engineering within Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton.

Climate change is a major challenge for the coast and we need to train engineers and scientists who can tackle these complex issues.

Robert leads research and education in coastal engineering. His research is focussed on long-term coastal engineering and management, especially the issues of coastal impacts and adaptation to climate change, with an emphasis on sea-level rise. This work occurs at all scales from local research in the Solent, up to global assessments. A major recent theme of research is the future of deltaic areas which are the most threatened coastal setting in the coming century. He has also been involved in a number of international assessments, and in particular the International Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. He was awarded the Roger Revelle Medal by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission in 2008. This recognises 'outstanding contributions to the ocean sciences by inspired researchers who communicate their knowledge and global vision of the challenges facing our Planet in order to shape a better future for humankind'.  Currently, he is co-lead of the World Climate Research Programme Grand Challenge on 'Regional sea-level change and coastal impacts' which will organise 'Sea Level 2017' at Columbia University in July 2017.







Research interests

Robert's research is mainly focussed long-term coastal engineering and management, especially the issues of coastal impacts and adaptation to climate change, with an emphasis on sea-level rise. A major recent theme are the future of deltaic areas which are the most threatened coastal setting in the coming century.

This includes lead authorship of chapters in four reports of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC): Second Assessment Report (1996); the Regional Assessment (1998); the Special Report on Technology Transfer (2000); and the Third Assessment Report (2001). He was Convening Lead Author (with P.P. Wong (Singapore)) for the "Coastal Systems and Low-Lying Areas" chapter in the IPCC 4th assessment and was the Review Editor of the Coastal Chapter in the IPCC 5th Assessment (2014).

He has contributed to many national studies such as the DEFRA-funded "Fast Track" assessments as the coastal expert, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, and led the coastal research theme in the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research which developed the "Coastal Simulator". He continues to lead the Cities and Coasts theme of the Tyndall Centre.  He also contributed to the Foresight study of Flood and Coastal Defence and its update for the Pitt Review and participated in related UK missions to Russia and the USA.

He was one of the principal developers of the DIVA (Dynamic Interactive Vulnerability Assessment) which builds on his experience with the Fast Track Assessments. DIVA has been used in both research and in policy development. This includes input into the EU Green Paper on Adaptation, the UNFCCC 2007 paper on adaptation costs, the World Bank 2010 assessment of Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change, and the Asian Development Bank study of China, South Korea, Japan and Mongolia as well as recent papers on global erosion (2013), flooding (2014) and wetland change (2016). He has lead two recent OECD papers on climate change, including a global assessment of flood exposure in large port cities which was followed by a city risk assessment in 2013. He has also advised several national governments on adaptation in coastal areas, such as Singapore.

Currently he is Principal Investigator/Co-Investigator on a number of major projects. He led the NERC-funded iCOASST Project (2012-2016) which concernsed"Predicting Long-term Coastal Geomorphological Evolution" and is a partnership with the Environment Agency with application to flood and erosion risk management. He led the Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) study on "Assessing Health, Livelihoods, Ecosystem Services And Poverty Alleviation In Populous Deltas" (2012-2016). This is based in coastal Bangladesh and results are being used to support the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100. Presently, his main project is the IDRC / DFID funded project of 'Deltas, Vulnerability and Climate Change: Mitigation and Adaptation'. This researches vulnerability to sea-level rise and other drivers of change in the Volta Delta in Ghana, Mahanadi delta in India, and the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta in Bangladesh / India

The other active projects are:

Core from marsh
Understanding past sea levels
Eling, River Test
Coasts have many functions
Isle of Wight
Storms can create flooding
Sea-level rise could cause major problems
On a fieldtrip to Bangladesh
Happisburgh, Norfolk
Coastal erosion causes problems
Dover, UK
Ports are vulnerable
Hinkley Point nuclear power station
Coasts need protection
Southsea, Hampshire
Protection for low-lying coast
In the field on the Dee Estuary
Learning from other experts
They help make decisions
Stakeholders are important

Research group(s)

Energy and Climate Change

Affiliate research group(s)

Coastal Engineering and Management

Research project(s)

THESEUS: Innovative technologies for safe European coasts in a changing climate

Quantifying projected impacts under 2°C warming (IMPACT2C)

CLIMSAVE - Climate change integrated assessment methodology for cross-sectoral adaptation and vulnerability in Europe

When will 1.5°C of warming occur, and what will the consequences be? (ADJUST1.5)

The impact of tide gates on fish migration

iCOASST - integrating coastal sediment systems

ESPA Deltas

Can we maintain efficient energy supplies? Adaptation and Resilience of Coastal Energy Supply (ARCoES)

Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC)

Shipping in changing climates

Quantifying projected impacts under high end climate change (RISES-AM-)

Belmont Forum DELTAS

Deltas, Vulnerability & Climate Change: Migration & Adaptation

Enhancing the Delta Dynamic Integrated Emulator Model and Concepts to support REACH goals

Robert is co-Director of MSc Engineering in the Coastal Environment (ECE) and the Southampton lead of the MSc Coastal and Marine Engineering and Management (CoMEM). Within the University, Robert is the theme champion the Society and Government theme in the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI) and also in the lead of the research group 'Coastal Engineering and Management'. He is also the Southampton lead at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research where he is researches cities and coasts.





Book Section(s)



Code Title Role



Robert's teaching involves undergraduate and postgraduate contributions to both the Civil Engineering Programmes, most particularly the MSc Engineering in the Coastal Environment which he co-directs with Dr. Ivan Haigh at the National Oceangraphy Centre. to find out more, the course also has it's own blog, run by a former student. He also leads the University of Southampton involvement in the Erasmus Mundus MSc Coastal and Marine Engineering and Management (CoMEM), which is lead by NTNU (Trondheim) and also involves Delft University of Technology, UPC (Barcelona) and City University (London).

Saltmarsh at Hurst Spit
Student visit
Professor Robert Nicholls
Engineering and the Environment University of Southampton Highfield Southampton SO17 1BJ

Room Number: 7/5027

Telephone: (023) 8059 4139

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