The University of Southampton
Engineering and the Environment
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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, 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 HoldernessChristchurch 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.

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)

  • 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:
  • Sea-level rise impacts and responses: a global perspective - Brown, S., Nicholls, R.J., Woodroffe, C.D., Hanson, S., Hinkel, J., Kebede, A.S., Neumann, B. and Vafeidis, A.T.. In Coastal Hazards - Finkl, Charles W. (ed.)
    Published by:
    Dordrecht, NL
    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 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.

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 assocatiated with a rise of 1.5ºC since pre-industrial. As part of this Dr Brown will look at the benefits of adapation and mitigation. She also plans to focus on vulnerable areas, such as small island developing states.

In DECCMA, Sally is analsying the impacts of 1.5ºC in three vulernable 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) who have an interested in 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 my questions, Sally looked to physics to help provide explanations. After taking A levels in Geography, Physics and Maths, she went onto 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 also 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.  

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 email 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, talks at conferences (in the UK and further afield)  She also presented 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  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). In 2017, Sally and PhD student Amy Welch visited a 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, she 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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