Engineering and the Environment

Sally Brown

BSc MRes PhD

Primary position:
Research Fellow


The University of Southampton
Dr Sally Brown's photo

Sally is interested in coastal geomorphology and the impacts of sea-level rise at local and global scales. Since 2008, she has been Research Fellow in the Civil, Maritime and Environmental Engineering and Science Unit (previously School of Civil Engineering and the Environment) and part of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Sally researches:

  • 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 covered the impacts of sea-level rise, globally, European-wide, in Africa, Maldives and Peru, whilst her PhD studies (awarded 2008) on cliff retreat, coastal management and crenulate bay formation focused much more on UK examples.

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 (mostly undergraduate Environmental Scientists ). 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 activities through science and engineering busking, such as on the Isle of Wight ferries.


The University of Southampton's electronic library (e-prints)


Brown, S., Aplin, K.L., Jenkins, K., Mander, S., Walsh, C. and Williams, P. (2015) Is there a rhythm of the rain? An analysis of weather in popular music. Weather, 70, (7), 198-204. (doi:10.1002/wea.2464).
Brown, S. and Nicholls, R.J. (2015) Subsidence and human influences in mega deltas: the case of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna. Science of The Total Environment, 362-374. (doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.04.124).
Arnell, N.A., Brown, S., Gosling, S.N., Gottschalk, P., Hinkel, J., Huntingford, C., Lloyd-Hughes, B., Lowe, J.A., Nicholls, R.J., Osborn, T.J., Osborne, T.M., Rose, G.A., Smith, P., Wheeler, T.R. and Zelazowski, P. (2014) The impacts of climate change across the globe: a multi-sectoral assessment. Climatic Change (doi:10.1007/s10584-014-1281-2).
Dearing, John A., Wang, Rong, Zhang, Ke, Dyke, James G., Haberl, Helmut, Hossain, Sarwar, Langdon, Peter G., Lenton, Timothy, Raworth, Kate, Brown, Sally, Carstensen, Jacob, Cole, Megan, Cornell, Sarah, Dawson, Terence, Doncaster, C. Patrick, Eigenbrod, Felix, Flörke, Martina, Jeffers, Elizabeth, Mackay, Anson, Nykvist, Björn and Poppy, Guy M. (2014) Safe and just operating spaces for regional social-ecological systems. Global Environmental Change, 28, 227-238. (doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.06.012).
Brown, Sally, Nicholls, Robert J., Hanson, Susan, Brundrit, Geoff, Dearing, John A., Dickson, Mark E., Gallop, Shari L., Gao, Shu, Haigh, Ivan D., Hinkel, Jochen, Jiménez, José A., Klein, Richard J.T., Kron, Wolfgang, Lázár, Attila N., Neves, Claudio Freitas, Newton, Alice, Pattiaratachi, Charitha, Payo, Andres, Pye, Kenneth, Sánchez-Arcilla, Agustín, Siddall, Mark, Shareef, Ali, Tompkins, Emma L., Vafeidis, Athanasios T., van Maanen, Barend, Ward, Philip J. and Woodroffe, Colin D. (2014) Shifting perspectives on coastal impacts and adaptation. Nature Climate Change, 4, (9), 752-755. (doi:10.1038/nclimate2344).
Berry, P.M., Brown, S., Chen, M., Kontogianni, A., Rowlands, O., Simpson, G. and Skourtos, M. (2014) Cross-sectoral interactions of adaptation and mitigation measures. Climatic Change (doi:10.1007/s10584-014-1214-0 ).
Brown, S., Barton, M.E. and Nicholls, R.J. (2014) Shoreline response of eroding soft cliffs due to hard defences. Proceedings of the ICE - Maritime Engineering (doi:10.1680/11.00026).
Arnell, N.W, Brown, S., Gosling, S.N., Hinkel, J., Huntingford, C., Lloyd-Hughes, B., Lowe, J.A., Osborn, T., Nicholls, R.J. and Zelazowski, P. (2014) Global-scale climate impact functions: the relationship between climate forcing and impact. Climatic Change, 1-13. (doi:10.1007/s10584-013-1034-7).
Brown, S., Nicholls, R.J., Lowe, J.A. and Hinkel, J. (2013) Spatial variations of sea-level rise and impacts: an application of DIVA. Climatic Change (doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0925-y).
Brown, S. and Nicholls, R.J. (2013) High rise: costing climate change. Hydrolink, 2013, (2), 44-46.
Warren, R., Lowe, J.A., Arnell, N.W., Hope, C., Berry, P., Brown, S., Gambhir, A., Gosling, S.N., Nicholls, R.J., O’Hanley, J., Osborn, T.J., Osborne, T., Price, J., Raper, S.C.B., Rose, G. and Vanderwal, J. (2013) The AVOID programme’s new simulations of the global benefits of stringent climate change mitigation. Climatic Change (doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0814-4).
Arnell, N.W., Lowe, J.A., Brown, S., Gosling, S.N., Gottschalk, P., Hinkel, J., Lloyd-Hughes, B., Nicholls, R.J., Osborn, T.J., Osborne, T.M., Rose, G.A., Smith, P. and Warren, R.F. (2013) A global assessment of the effects of climate policy on the impacts of climate change. Nature Climate Change, 3, 512-519. (doi:10.1038/nclimate1793 ).
Hall, Jim W., Brown, Sally, Nicholls, Robert J., Pidgeon , Nick F. and Watson, Robert T. (2012) Commentary: Proportionate adaptation. Nature Climate Change, 2, 833-834. (doi:10.1038/nclimate1749).
Brown, Sally, Barton, M.E. and Nicholls, R.J. (2012) Human interference on soft cliff retreat: examples from Christchurch Bay, UK. Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrology, 45, (4), 395-404. (doi:10.1144/​qjegh2011-069).
Brown, Sally, Barton, M.E. and Nicholls, R.J. (2012) The effect of coastal defences on cliff top retreat along the Holderness coastline. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society, 59, (1), 1-13. (doi:10.1144/pygs.59.1.288).
Hinkel, J, Brown, S., Exner, L, Nicholls, R.J., Vafeidis, A.T. and Kebede, Abiy S (2011) Sea-level rise impacts on Africa and the effects of mitigation and adaptation: an application of DIVA. Regional Environmental Change (doi:10.1007/s10113-011-0249-2).
Brown, S., Barton, M.E. and Nicholls, R.J. (2011) Coastal retreat and/or advance adjacent to defences in England and Wales. Journal of Coastal Conservation, 15, (4), 659-670. (doi:10.1007/s11852-011-0159-y).
Pardaens, A.K., Lowe, J.A, Brown, S., Nicholls, R.J. and de Gusmão, D. (2011) Sea-level rise and impacts projections under a future scenario with large greenhouse gas emission reductions. Geophysical Research Letters, 38, (12), L12604-[5]. (doi:10.1029/2011GL047678 ).
Nicholls, R.J., Marinova, N, Lowe, J.A., Brown, S., Gusmão, D, Hinkel, J and Tol, R.S.J. (2011) Sea-level rise and its possible impacts given a ‘beyond 4°C world’ in the twenty-first century. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences, 369, (1934), 161-181. (doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0291 ).

Book Section

Brown, Sally, Nicholls, R.J., Woodroffe, C.D., Hanson, S., Hinkel, J., Kebede, A.S., Neumann, B. and Vafeidis, A.T. (2013) Sea-level rise impacts and responses: a global perspective. In, Finkl, Charles W. (ed.) Coastal Hazards. Dordrecht, NL, Springer, 117-149. (doi:10.1007/978-94-007-5234-4_5).
Brown, Sally, Nicholls, Robert J., Pardaens, A.K., Lowe, J.A., Vafeidis, A.T., Hinkel, J. and Watkiss, P. (2012) Impacts and strategic responses to rising sea levels in the European Union [full paper]. In, Klijn, Frans and Schweckendiek, Timo (eds.) Comprehensive Flood Risk Management: Research for Policy and Practice. 2nd European Conference on Flood Risk Management London, GB, Taylor and Francis , 1139-1147.
Brown, Sally, Nicholls, Robert J., Pardaens, A.K., Lowe, J.A., Vafeidis, A.T., Hinkel, J. and Watkiss, P. (2012) Impacts and strategic responses to rising sea levels in the European Union[extended abstract]. In, Klijn, Frans and Schweckendiek, Timo (eds.) Comprehensive Flood Risk Management: Research for Policy and Practice. European Conference on Flood Risk Management , Taylor and Francis , 289-289.
Kebede, Abiy S., Nicholls, R.J., Brown, S. and Hanson, S., The World Bank (2010) Coastal zone. In, Mozambique: Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change. Washington, US, World Bank Group, 47-58.
Brown, S. and Barton, M.E. (2007) Downdrift erosion and the frequency of coastal landsliding. In, McInnes, Robin, Jakeways, Jenny, Fairbank, Helen and Mathi, Emma (eds.) Landslides and Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions. Proceedings of the International Conference on Landslides and Climate Change, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, UK, 21–24 May 2007. International Conference on Landslides and Climate Change London, GB, Taylor & Francis.

Conference or Workshop Item

Barton, M.E. and Brown, S. (2014) Littoral drift barriers and the problem of proving accelerated recession. In, Engineering Geology for Society and Territory: 12th International Association of Engineering Geology Congress, Torino , Italy, 15 - 19 Sep 2014. Springer, 9-12.
Lewis, K., Richardson, K., Kent, C., Dankers, R., Davie, J., Giuntoli, I., Robinson, E., Clark, C., Prudhomme, C., Wada, Y., Brown, S., Nicholls, R.J., Lincke, D., Hinkel, J, Elliott, J.W. and Rosenzweig, C. (2014) Human dynamics of climate change map. At Human dynamics of climate change. Launched by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, UK, 17 Jul 2014.


Nicholls, Robert, Brown, Sally, Hanson, Susan and Hinkel, Jochan (2010) Economics of coastal zone adaptation to climate change. Washington, US, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / World Bank, 48pp. (World Bank Discussion Papers, 10).


Brown, Sally (2008) Soft cliff retreat adjacent to coastal defences, with particular reference to Holderness and Christchurch Bay, UK. University of Southampton, School of Civil Engineering and the Environment, Doctoral Thesis , 329pp.


Research Interests


Climate change, Sea-level rise, Coastal morphology, Cliff retreat, Flooding, Adaptation, Coastal management.

Sally’s research focuses on the following:
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 recent 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 amount of sea-level rise – and where this will occur (known as a spatial pattern) – needed to be determined. Sally created 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. Full scientific results will be published shortly.

What are the regional implications of sea-level rise?

Sally has been involved in a major EU study, ClimateCost: The Full Costs of Climate Change. Funded by the European Commission, the project involved a multi-sectoral analysis of climate change impacts within the EU, where she focused on the effects of sea-level rise. The study was funded to gain a strategic perspective on impacts and economic costs, which is useful for planning, which can influence EU policy and climate negotiations. Sally has presented this work at several conferences, and was interviewed on the results by Deutschlandradio during the European Climate Change Adaptation conference in Hamburg (2013). She is extending this research as part of the IMPACT2C project which is looking at the integration of impacts and adaptation.

Sally has undertaken similar work on the effects of sea-level rise level rise at regional (Africa), and national levels, presently Maldives and Bangladesh.

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.

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 and Christchurch Bay and to a lesser extent, 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 is keen to promote cooperation between researchers with similar interests and in March 2013 organised the WUN Changing Coasts, where eminent researchers world-wide met to discuss how we can better sustain, adapt and protect our coast, whilst maintaining healthy ecosystems in the future. Part of this involves a better liaison between scientists, engineers and policy makers and local and national levels - which is a common thread in her current research project RISES-AM-. In February 2014, Sally was invited to speak at a workshop in nearby Eastleigh, hosted by local MP Mike Thornton and run by Green Alliance (an environmental organisation encouraging political leaders to become engaged in global environmental issues) where climate change adaptation was discussed between community, local organisations, businesses and the local authority.

Global sea-level rise in 2100 (m)

Global sea-level rise in 2100 (m)

Low-lying areas

Low-lying areas

High water levels in Venice

High water levels in Venice

Storm conditions in Barcelona

Storm conditions in Barcelona

Coastal erosion

Coastal erosion

Surveying by DGPS

Surveying by DGPS

Adaptation can reduce impacts

Adaptation can reduce impacts

Dikes protect low-lying land

Dikes protect low-lying land

Green Alliance workshop

Photo: E.Perez

Green Alliance workshop

Science busking on IoW ferries

Science busking on IoW ferries

Primary research group:  Energy and Climate Change

Affiliate research group:  Coastal Engineering and Management

Research projects

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-)


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.

Sally visiting the German Baltic

Sally visiting the German Baltic


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

Room Number: 25/3063

Telephone: (023) 8059 4796