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. She was appointed as Research Fellow in 2008 in the Civil, Maritime and Environmental Engineering and Science Unit within the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, and became a Senior Research Fellow in 2015. Sally is part of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
Climate change, ports and maritime disasters (since 2014);
Different scales of adaptation and their effects (since 2013);
Subsidence in deltas (since 2012);
Impacts of sea-level rise and extreme events on small islands (since 2011);
Impacts and costs of sea-level rise and climate change (since 2008);
Adaptation to sea-level rise and coastal change (since 2008);
Physical and human effects of geomorphic change on the coast, and management response (since 2004);
Soft cliff morphology and retreat (since 2003);
Impacts of coastal structures on adjacent coastlines (since 2003).
Her post-doctoral research has focused on a range of geographical settings world-wide, including global impacts of sea-level rise, European and African impacts and adaptation, maritime disasters in China, subsidence in Bangladesh and India and extreme events in the Maldives. Sally's PhD studies (awarded 2008) focused on UK cliff erosion, coastal management and crenulate bay formation.
To assess the impacts of sea-level rise, she uses 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 also supervises dissertations and GDP projects (including BSc Environmental Scientists, MSc Engineering in the Coastal Environment and MEng Civil/Environmental Engineering). 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 science and engineering busking. She has also spoken with schools and given presentations to community groups about her research.
How much do we anticipate sea levels to rise, and what will the impacts be?
There is much uncertainty into how much sea levels will rise and who this will affect. Without investment, it could influence our cities, transport, energy and our natural environment. Sally describes some of these impacts at global and continental scales in a book chapter.
To help address this question, Sally’s first post-doc research project was QUEST-GSI which investigated the uncertainties associated with the impacts of sea-level rise using a range of models. This was to help ascertain who and what would be at risk from rising sea levels so that further strategic planning and investment can be undertaken to reduce risk. Before impacts can be calculated, the magnitude of sea-level rise – and where this will occur (known as a spatial pattern) – needed to be determined. Sally generated scenarios of sea-level rise for a range of models, and then calculated impacts. Initial results were used in the widely published Foreign and Commonwealth Office 4º map which included high rates of sea-level rise. Subsequent research has been published in the Human Dynamics of Climate Change map, again launched by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Subsequently, Sally has been involved in a research programme, AVOID2 which determines what the impacts of sea-level rise could be using the latest set of climate projections.
What are the regional or local implications of sea-level rise?
Apart from working in Europe, Sally has studied the impacts of sea-level rise in the Maldives, working with the Ministry of Environment and Energy, Maldives. Initial findings may also be found in the IMPACT2C web atlas under the non-European regions.
Most recently, 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.
What are the costs of sea-level rise?
Extreme water levels and rising sea levels have the potential to inflict much damage through the processes of flooding and erosion, resulting in land loss, building damage and people who are forced to move away from the area. These costs can be also reduced through adaptation. Sally contributed to the 2010 World Bank study Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change being a co-author on the coastal impacts chapter. She has also investigated costs in other projects, such as in Europe.
Can we avoid rising sea levels, and what are the benefits of this?
Some sea-level rise could be avoided, but only over longer timescales, and this can be achieved through climate change mitigation via reducing greenhouse has emissions. Sally has been involved in the AVOID study which takes climate mitigation scenarios and compares then with business-as-normal or medium-high emissions scenarios to determine what impacts and costs can be reduced, and when this is likely to occur. Climate change mitigation and adaptation can be complementary, but can also cause problems, so policies must be implemented carefully.
Is sea-level rise the only change we need to worry about on the coast?
The impacts of sea-level rise are caused by a range of factors, including land subsidence, development and the growth of coastal population. Subsidence is very important to consider when analysing impacts as at times subsidence can have a greater affect on relative land level change than sea-level rise itself. In 2015, Sally published an open-access study on subsidence in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta. She searched the literature and found 205 records of subsidence in the delta and wider region of values. Subsidence is complicated, and unless we understand what change are occurring both on the sea, as well as on the ground, accurate projections of sea-level rise impacts remain challenging. Adapting to the effects of sea-level rise and other coastal change ideally needs to be undertaken over long time scales, planning for risks before they happen, taking account a wide range of physical and social factors that influence development.
How does the coast historically change, how have we managed or adapted the coast in the past and how are we going to cope with social and physical change (including sea-level rise) in the future?
This initiated from her PhD studies investigating cliff retreat rates in Holderness, Christchurch Bay and north-east Norfolk UK. Wanting a practical aspects of research, Sally undertook DGPS beach and cliff surveys and historical coastal data to analyse cliff retreat in GIS. This included consideration of how engineers protected the coast (in good and bad ways!), which often results in a phenomenon called the terminal groyne effect, and subsequent crenulate bay formation. She is interested in how we can best manage and sustain the coast and work with natural processes in the future.
Sally supervises 4th year MEng Group Design Project students, 3rd year BSc Environmental Sciences students and MSc Engineering in the Coastal Environment students.
Scientists and engineers are sometimes asked by students in University or outside how they got to where they are now.
I really enjoyed learning about the environment at school, particularly in physical geography. However, I found geography didn't provide enough answers as to why things happened in the environment. To provide answers to my questions I looked to physics to help provide explanations. After taking A levels in Geography, Physics and Maths, I went onto study Geophysical Sciences at the University of Southampton. This multi-disciplinary course appealed to me as it combined many different subjects of interest, including geophysics, geology, geography, oceanography, physics and maths. However, I was never entirely satisfied with learning about science, and wanted to understand more about its application.
After a year working, I realised I could make this connection by applying my scientific interests to engineering. I returned to the University to study MRes Coastal Engineering for Climate Change, which combined both my interests in geology and also climate change. My dissertation analysed the role of defences and cliff retreat at Barton-on-Sea, Christchurch Bay. At the end of the year I extended my research into a PhD, looking at other cliffed environments in Holderness and Norfolk.
In 2008 I started working as a post-doctoral research scientist studying coasts, climate change and sea-level rise. I really like my job as there is a great range of different topics with a lot of applications, and I get to work with scientists in different disciplines. Although my work is more computer based now, I also still enjoy visiting the coast too.
Jiayi Fang: Impacts of sea-level rise in China. Jiayi is visiting Southampton (from 2016 to 2017) from Beijing Normal University and is also supervised by Prof Robert Nicholls whilst she is in Southampton.
If you are able to attract your own funding (or partial funding), and would like to undertake a PhD under my supervision, please contact me. I am 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 do I disseminate my science and engineering research?
My science and engineering research is disseminated through a range of publications, talks at conferences (in the UK and further afield) and to the wider public (e.g. Jurassic Coast seminar day in 2014, Green Alliance workshop with Mike Thornton MP in 2014). I also present my research in seminars at the University of Southampton, and have given 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). My 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.
What about science just for fun?
I take part in outreach activities, such as science busking. For the past few years I have helped demonstrate physics-based activities, through the Institute of Physics, at the Dorset County Show.