The University of Southampton
Engineering and the Environment
(023) 8059 4796

Dr Sally Brown BSc MRes PhD

Senior Research Fellow

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Dr Sally Brown is Senior Research Fellow specialising in coasts and sea-level rise within Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton.

Sally is interested in coastal geomorphology, the impacts of sea-level rise on a range of settings and climate change adaptation at local to global scales, plus the long-term sustainability of coastal zones. Sally is part of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and also part of the University Strategic Research Group Clean Carbon where she leads the 'Consequences' theme.

Sally's research interests all hinge around physical and social interactions in the coastal zone. This covers the following themes (see research tab for details):

In recent years, Sally's research has shifted towards developing nations, particualrly the Maldives and China, with her present research focusing in Ghana, India and Bangladesh.  Prior to this, her research into the impacts of sea-level rise was more oriented towards global and European coastlines, Africa and coastal erosion and management issues in the UK. One tool she uses to assess the impacts of sea-level rise, is the Dynamic Interactive Vulnerability Assessment (DIVA) model , developed by Robert Nicholls in Southampton and other non-Southampton scientists. DIVA assesses the global and regional vulnerability of sea-level rise and subsequent impacts, such as land loss, people flooded and the associated costs.

Sally has supervises students in engineering and science. She is an associate member of the Institute of Physics and part of the Environmental Physics Group. Sally has also interacted physics and marine science/engineering activities through discussions with policy makers, outreach, blogs and the media.




Current work

Q & A


Research interests


Climate change, sea-level rise, coastal geomorphology, cliffs, erosion, flooding, impacts, adaptation, shoreline management, small islands, deltas, ports, insurance.

Sally’s research focuses on the following:
·         Impacts of sea-level rise at a global scale

Understanding global problems helps the connect people and places, and helps solve common problems. Sally’s research has focused on what the impacts of sea-level rise could be (such as land or wetland loss, people affected), where they could occur and when, and what can be done to reduce impacts. She has also analysed the benefits of climate change mitigation at global scale. She has been funded by the Natural Environment Research Centre (NERC) and the European Commission to publish research identifying this. Sally has also undertaken research for the World Bank (e.g. Economic Impacts of Climate Change), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (in the forms of maps to generate information and impact to overseas governments).

·         Impacts of sea-level rise at regional and local scales

Having understood the global picture, Dr Brown’s research then focused on which global regions (continental) are most at risk. This has included a study around African coasts published as a paper, and a number of unpublished case studies. She has also been funded by the European Commission to determine the impacts of sea-level rise and the costs of adaptation around European coasts. Sally has also participated in a paper on coastal hazards in China, from her visiting PhD student. Sally contributed to report led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on a risk assessment of climate change in cities. This analysed potential impacts of sea-level rise, subsidence, adaptation and considered how long coastal cities could survive for with rising sea-levels.

·         Small islands: Sea-level rise, impacts and sustainable development

Small islands only contain a small percentage of the world’s population, with small island developing States contributing about 1% of the world’s population. Islanders are highly reliant on the sea for their livelihoods, and so understanding environmental change is very important. Dr Brown has been working with the Ministry of Environment and Energy in the Maldives to analyse the effects of extreme water level events, impacts of sea-level rise and potential adaptation options. She is presently writing up her results for publication and is keen to extend this work further.

·         Delta environments: Sea-level rise, subsidence and their impacts

Low-lying deltas are also environments highly sensitive to natural and anthropogenic change. Sally first learnt about deltas through studying land subsidence, producing a highly cited open access research article on subsidence in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta. She went on to co-author a publication on wetland loss and is now studying the impacts of an equivalent 1.5°C rise in sea-level on the Ganges-Brahmaputra, Mahanadi and Volta deltas.

·         Adaptation to sea-level rise, flooding, erosion and multiple drivers of change

Adaptation to sea-level rise is essential as climate change mitigation alone will not inhibit impacts. Sally has researched how adaptation can reduce impacts on a global scale, and have considered adaptation pathways (a series of actions to reduce long-term risks by taking into account multiple uncertainties) in different environments susceptible to sea-level rise. Dr Brown has also analysed and supervised student projects on adaptation to sea-level rise in the Maldives.

·         Policy implications and management of coastal science and engineering

Sally has a keen interest in understand how coastal science and engineering makes an impact with coastal communities and governments at local, national and international levels.  This stemmed from her PhD where she studied coastal management. Her present interest is in the social and economic implications of coastal management policies. She presently supervises two PhD students, jointly with Southampton Law School who have a policy angle to their PhDs (see Q&A tab). Reinforcing this interest, in 2016, Dr Brown took part in the Royal Society Scientist / Parliamentary Pairing Scheme, where she was paired with Mr Rory Steward and Sir Desmond Swayne. She found this an amazing opportunity and privilege to witness how Parliament works.

·         Erosion, geomorphology and coastal structures

Closer to home, Sally is interested in UK coastal issues. Her particular interest is in cliff erosion and crenulate bay formation, which was the topic of her PhD thesis, where she focused on Christchurch Bay, Holderness and Norfolk. Although her main research is no longer focused on this theme, she still enjoys supervising BSc Environmental Science and MSc Engineering in the Coastal Environment dissertations on the topic.

Where can I find out more?

You can find Sally Brown's research records and more information here:

Research group(s)

Energy and Climate Change

Affiliate research group(s)

Coastal Engineering and Management

Research project(s)

Quantifying projected impacts under 2°C warming (IMPACT2C)

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

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

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

An options appraisal for remediation of coastal landfills in the Maldives


Book Section(s)

  • Sea-level rise impacts and responses: a global perspective - Brown, S., Nicholls, R.J., Woodroffe, C.D., Hanson, S., Hinkel, J., Kebede, Abiy, Neumann, B. and Vafeidis, A.T.. In Coastal Hazards - Finkl, Charles W. (ed.)
    Published by:
    Dordrecht, NL
    Page Range:
  • The risks of sea-level rise for coastal cities - Nicholls, R.J., Reeder, T., Brown, S. and Haigh, I.D.. In Climate change: a risk assessment - King, D., Schrag, D., Dadi, Z., Ye, Q. and Ghosh, A. (eds.)
    Published by:
    London, GB
    Page Range:
  • Coastal zone - Kebede, A.S., Nicholls, R.J., Brown, S. and Hanson, S.. In Mozambique: Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change
    Published by:
    Washington, US
    Page Range:




Sally supervises students undertaking their dissertations, research projects and design projects. She is presently supervising a 4th year MEng Group Design Project (GDP) with Prof Robert Nicholls and Dr Joel Smethurst. The group are designing defences and wider management plans against potential tsunamis in the Maldives, a project suggested by the Maldivian government. Although tsunamis are rare, they can have devastating impacts. This builds on two previously successful GDPs on coastal flooding and sea-level rise in the Maldives. All projects have provided the students with excellent opportunities to liaise and discuss their work with the Maldivian government. Student work has been presented to the Ministry og Environment and Energy and some have reached Ministerial level. Dr Brown also supervises students undertaking the one-year MSc Engineering in the Coastal Environment course, one-year MSc Sustainability and third year BSc Enviromental Science. She has supervised students researching cliff erosion, flooding, sand dunes, wetlands, heritage, coastal management and public perceptions of coastal change. To achieve really successful and useful results her students have liaised with local authorities and other organisations to understand why and how their results can be useful to end users and the public.

Sally's present research is themed around the impacts of sea-level rise at 1.5°C. This is important research that could potentially feed into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report on the implications of the Paris Agreement. She is being funded through two projects, Adjust1.5 and DECCMA.

In Adjust1.5 Sally is analysing the global impacts of sea-level rise at different levels of sea-level rise which could be associated with a rise of 1.5ºC since pre-industrial. As part of this Dr Brown will look at the benefits of adaptation and mitigation. She also plans to focus on vulnerable areas, such as small island developing States.

In DECCMA, Sally is analysing the impacts of 1.5ºC in three vulnerable deltas. These deltas are the Volta in Ghana, the Mahanadi in India and the Ganges-Brahmaputra in Bangladesh / India.

Sally is also researching the impacts of sea-level rise in China and waste management in the Maldives in the context of erosion and flooding. Sally is also just finishing publications from previous projects, including the impacts of extreme events, sea-level rise and adaptation in the Maldives, adaptation pathways and impacts of sea-level rise at a global scale, including the interplay between adaptation and mitigation.

She is also leading a University wide group who have interest in small islands states (particularly in developing nations) focusing on long-term sustainability and development issues. Sally has leads the 'Consequences' theme in the University Strategic Research Group, Clean Carbon and helps lead Southampton's contribution to the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

What is Sally's background?

Sally really enjoyed learning about the environment at school, particularly in physical geography. However, she found geography didn't provide enough answers as to why things happened in the environment. To provide answers to her questions, Sally looked to physics to help provide explanations. After taking A levels in Geography, Physics and Maths, she went on to study Geophysical Sciences. However, Sally was never entirely satisfied with learning about science, and wanted to understand more about its application. She found this through engineering. Dr Brown went on to study MRes Coastal Engineering for Climate Change, which combined both of her interests in geology and climate change. Her dissertation analysed the role of defences and cliff retreat at Barton-on-Sea, Christchurch Bay. At the end of the year she extended my research into a PhD, looking at other cliffed environments in Holderness and Norfolk. In 2008 Sally started working as a Research Fellow, and became Senior Research Fellow in 2015. She now has broad interests in science and engineering in coastal zones.

Which PhD students does Sally supervise?

Sally supervises and advises four PhD students:

If you are able to attract your own funding (or partial funding), and would like to undertake a PhD under Sally's supervision, please contact her. Dr Brown is particularly interested to hear from students who are interested in shoreline management, impacts or adaptation of sea-level rise (e.g. physical effects, health), subsidence and coastal geomorphology, in any geographic location.

How does Sally disseminate her science and engineering research?

Sally's science and engineering research is disseminated through a range of publications and talks at conferences (in the UK and further afield). She also presents her research in seminars at the University of Southampton, and has given numerous talks at workshops outside of the University (e.g. discussions of research project outputs in Brussels (2015), keynote talk at a sea-level rise workshop in Mallorca, 2015). In 2016, she presented at the University of Oxford's 1.5 degree conference on her Maldivian research, at Adaptation Futures in the Netherlands, and in Shanghai and Beijing. Her research is also displayed through web atlases (e.g. Human Dynamics map, impact of a 2°C rise in temperature atlas) and in the media. Sally's research has also been presented to Maldivian ministries and the University who are concerned about sea-level rise.

What outreach events does Sally get involved in?

Sally takes part in outreach activities, such as science busking. For the past few years she has helped demonstrate physics-based activities, through the Institute of Physics, at the Dorset County Show. Dr Brown disseminates her research to the wider public (e.g. Jurassic Coast seminar day in 2014, Green Alliance workshop with Mike Thornton MP in 2014). Sally also disseminates her research and experience in schools. For example, in 2017, Sally and PhD student Amy Welch visited a Dorset school to discuss the merits of a career in coastal engineering to students. Through the Institute of Physics, Sally has contributed a careers profile, on the merits of working in coastal engineering and science. She has also contributed to numerous blogs, such as through RealClimate and her experience from the Royal Society MP / Scientist Pairing Scheme.

What about science just for fun?

In 2015, Sally led a paper on weather and music. This was just a bit of fun, but captured the public imagination. It was widely disseminated in the media (e.g. national and international newspapers and magazines). Her team are still collecting songs, so if you have any ideas, please let her know or add it to the list.

Does Sally speak to the media?

Yes. Dr Brown has undertaken numerous interviews and responses to the media in the UK and internationally, including for the BBC, The Times, Buzzfeed, Deutsche Welle, Deutschlandfunk, Toronto Star, RTÉ and Talk Radio Europe. She was contributed a piece in The Conversation which was picked up by different media outlets.

Dr Sally Brown
Engineering and the Environment University of Southampton Highfield Southampton SO17 1BJ

Room Number:25/3063

Telephone:(023) 8059 4796

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