Climate change, sea-level rise, coastal geomorphology, cliffs, erosion, flooding, impacts, adaptation, shoreline management, small islands, ports, insurance.
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 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?
Sally has been involved in several major European studies of sea-level rise, including ClimateCost: The full costs of climate change (2008-2011), IMPACT2C: The impacts of a 2°C rise in temperature (2011-2015) and RISES-AM-: Responses to coastal climate change: Innovative strategies for high end scenarios -Adaptation and Mitigation- (2013-2016). These have been funded by the European Commission. 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). Some of her initial results from IMPACT2C can be seen in their web atlas. Sally led the coastal theme section which reports impacts and costs of sea-level rise around Europe and in port environments.
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.
Where can I find out more?
You can find Sally Brown's research records here:
She is also occasionally on Twitter.
Energy and Climate Change
Affiliate research group(s)
Coastal Engineering and Management
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 ministries and 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 uear 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.
Dr Sally Brown
Engineering and the Environment University of Southampton Highfield Southampton SO17 1BJ
Telephone:(023) 8059 4796