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Visiting Professor Robert Nicholls BSc PhD

Visiting Professor of Coastal Engineering

Visiting Professor Robert Nicholls's photo

Robert Nicholls is Visiting Professor of Coastal Engineering within Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Southampton.

Climate change is a major challenge for the coast and we need to train engineers and scientists who can tackle these complex issues.

Robert leads research and education in coastal engineering at the University of Southampton, including collaborating with colleagues in Oceanography, geography and Social Science. His research is focussed on long-term coastal engineering and management, especially the issues of coastal impacts and adaptation to climate change, with an emphasis on sea-level rise. This work occurs at all scales from local research in the Solent, up to global assessments. A major recent theme of research is the future of densely populated deltaic areas which are highly threatened in coming decades. He has also been involved in a number of international assessments, and in particular the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. He was awarded the Roger Revelle Medal by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission in 2008. This recognises 'outstanding contributions to the ocean sciences by inspired researchers who communicate their knowledge and global vision of the challenges facing our Planet in order to shape a better future for humankind'.  Currently, he co-leads the World Climate Research Programme Grand Challenge on 'Regional sea-level change and coastal impacts' who organised 'Sea Level 2017' at Columbia University in July 2017. He is also a member of the ASCE COPRI Coastal Engineering Research Council.

Research interests

Robert's research is mainly focussed long-term coastal engineering and management, especially the issues of coastal impacts and adaptation to climate change, with an emphasis on sea-level rise. A major recent theme is the assessment of the future of deltaic areas, which are the most threatened coastal setting in the coming century. In particular, he has been working with the Planning Commission of the Government of Bangladesh to support the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100.

He was lead author of chapters in four reports of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC): Second Assessment Report (1996); the Regional Assessment (1998); the Special Report on Technology Transfer (2000); and the Third Assessment Report (2001). He was Convening Lead Author (with P.P. Wong (Singapore)) for the "Coastal Systems and Low-Lying Areas" chapter in the IPCC 4th assessment and was the Review Editor of the Coastal Chapter in the IPCC 5th Assessment (2014).

He has contributed to many national assessments such as the DEFRA-funded "Fast Track" assessments as the coastal expert, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, and led the coastal research theme in the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research which developed the "Coastal Simulator". He continues to lead the Cities and Coasts theme of the Tyndall Centre.  He also contributed to the Foresight study of Flood and Coastal Defence and its update for the Pitt Review and participated in related UK missions to Russia and the USA.

He is one of the principal developers of the DIVA (Dynamic Interactive Vulnerability Assessment) which builds on his experience with the Fast Track Assessments. DIVA has been used in both research and in policy development. This includes input into the EU Green Paper on Adaptation, the UNFCCC 2007 paper on adaptation costs, the World Bank 2010 assessment of Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change, and the Asian Development Bank study of China, South Korea, Japan and Mongolia as well as recent papers on global erosion (2013), flooding (2014) and wetland change (2016). He has lead two recent OECD papers on climate change, including a global assessment of flood exposure in large port cities which was followed by a city risk assessment in 2013. He has also advised several national governments on adaptation in coastal areas, such as Singapore.

Recently he has been Principal Investigator/Co-Investigator on a number of major projects. He led the NERC-funded iCOASST Project (2012-2016) which concerned "Predicting Long-term Coastal Geomorphological Evolution" and is a partnership with the Environment Agency with application to flood and erosion risk management. He led the Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) study on "Assessing Health, Livelihoods, Ecosystem Services And Poverty Alleviation In Populous Deltas" (2012-2016). This is based in coastal Bangladesh and results are being used to support the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, including the ESPA-funded Continuation Project from 2017 to 2108. It resulted in an open access book on integrated assessment of deltas. Presently, his main project is the IDRC / DFID funded project of 'Deltas, Vulnerability and Climate Change: Mitigation and Adaptation'. This researches vulnerability to sea-level rise and other drivers of change in the Volta Delta in Ghana, Mahanadi delta in India, and the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta in Bangladesh / India

His other active or recent projects are:


Robert analyses the impact of sea-level rise at global/continentalscales (e.g., Europe) using the Dynamic Interactive Vulnerability Assessment (DIVA) modelling framework. 


Robert led the Tyndall Coastal Simulator which pioneered integrated coastal assessment, such as applied here in Norfolk, including modelling and stakeholder engagement. Follow up research led by Robert includes the iCOASST Project


Robert's research in deltas integrates diverse knowledge domains across biophysical, socio-economic and governance domains to address complex development questions and support strategic planning in areas vulnerable to sea-level rise.


Robert's research examines global scale questions like the impacts and adaptation to sea-level rise and related issues. This figure shows large coastal cities that are prone to high rates of subsidence, together with observations of subsidence.

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Robert is interested in coastal flooding, including in the Solent, such as this flood near Cowes, Isle of wight.
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Robert works with international organisations and universities, who visit Southampton and attend field trips in the surrounding area to better understand coastal risks.
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Robert likes to understand past coastal conditions and continues to learn with other experts on field trips.
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Robert has an interest in ports and how they cope with extreme conditions and climate change.
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Much of Robert's work focuses in developing nations, such as in Bangladesh which is vulnerable to sea-level rise.
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Robert is interested how low-lying coasts, such as Portsmouth, are protected
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Robert researchers science and engineering in the Solent, including in Portsmouth, where he interacts with the local authority responsible for managing and maintaining the coast. Here, Matthew Wadey is giving a talk to international delegates on a field trip Robert is leading.
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Robert listens to stakeholders and expert groups about coastal problems and how to solve them.
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Robert is keen to pass on his knowledge and learning to students, such as at Hurst Spit.
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Robert aims to understand how deltas like Bangladesh are affected by climate change.
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Robert is interested in engineering development in coastal zones, such as this island construction in the Maldives.
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Robert co-developed the Tyndall Coastal Simulator focusing on the EastAnglian coast.
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Robert researches how livelihoods are affected after extreme events in developing countries.
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Robert researches small islands and how they might develop sustainable solutions to the problems they face.

Research group

Energy and Climate Change

Affiliate research group

Coastal Engineering and Management

Research project(s)

THESEUS: Innovative technologies for safe European coasts in a changing climate

Quantifying projected impacts under 2°C warming (IMPACT2C)

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

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

The impact of tide gates on fish migration

iCOASST - integrating coastal sediment systems

ESPA Deltas

Can we maintain efficient energy supplies? Adaptation and Resilience of Coastal Energy Supply (ARCoES)

Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC)

Shipping in changing climates

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

Belmont Forum DELTAS

Deltas, Vulnerability & Climate Change: Migration & Adaptation

Enhancing the Delta Dynamic Integrated Emulator Model and Concepts to support REACH goals

Surge Watch: An interactive and multi-purpose database of coastal flooding events for the UK

Coastal Landfill and Shoreline Management: Implications for Coastal Adaptation Infrastructure

An options appraisal for remediation of coastal landfills in the Maldives

Coastal resilience in the face of sea-level rise

Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alliviation in Deltas

An assessment of the ecosystem service and livelihood implications of government development proposals in coastal Bangladesh

We demonstrate the potential of Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) to inform strategic policy decision making at the regional level, helping to understand key trade-offs and secondary impacts. We document the Delta Dynamic Emulator Model (ΔDIEM), co-produced with stakeholders, to integrate ecosystem services and household wellbeing, being utilised by the Planning Commission of the Government of Bangladesh for its strategic long-term risk planning.

The Application of an Integrated Assessment Model (IAM) to Waterlogging in South West Bangladesh

presents modelled impacts of waterlogging to 2050 in coastal Bangldesh including (i) Key policy relevant findings (ii) Plausible areas for policy development (iii) Potential future research focus areas.

Opportunities and trade-offs between the SDGs for food, welfare and the environment in deltas

Development of Integrated Assessment Models to addresses mapping the complexity of SDGs within a large-scale social-ecological system , as well as directly supporting the evaluation and development of policies and practises to deliver sustainable development in West Bengal, India.

Deltas, Vulnerability & Climate Change: Migration & Adaptation

Robert is co-Director of MSc Engineering in the Coastal Environment (ECE) and the Southampton lead of the MSc Coastal and Marine Engineering and Management (CoMEM). Within the University, Robert is the theme champion the Society and Government theme in the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI) and also in the lead of the research group 'Coastal Engineering and Management'. He is also the Southampton lead at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research where he is researches cities and coasts. Robert also is on the Editorial Board for Anthropocene Coasts.



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Book Chapters





Working Papers

Code Title Role


FEEG3003 Individual Project  

Robert's teaching involves undergraduate and postgraduate contributions to the Civil Engineering Programmes mostly focussed around coastal engineering issues, including Independent Projects (FEEG3003) and MSc Student Dissertations (FEE6012). He co-directs the MSc Engineering in the Coastal Environment with Dr. Ivan Haigh based in the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences at the National Oceanography Centre. He also leads the University of Southampton involvement in the Erasmus Mundus MSc Coastal and Marine Engineering and Management (CoMEM), which is led by NTNU (Trondheim) and also involves Delft University of Technology, UPC (Barcelona) and City University (London).

Saltmarsh at Hurst Spit
Student visit to Hurst Spit

Press Conference: Water world

Historic floods, sea level rise, storm surge and climate change, AGU, San Francisco, 12-16 December 2016.

Watch the video

Adaptation to Sea-Level  Rise

National Academy of Engineering Annual Meeting on Mega-Challenges in Engineering, Washington DC, 26 October 2016

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Ecosystem services and livelihoods

in coastal Bangladesh, ESPA Science Meeting London, 25/26 November 2015: Talk starts at 1.16.30.

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Flooding in Coastal Cities

Interdisciplinary Week, University of Southampton 10 April 2014

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The Future of Deltas

Agriculture and Fisheries in Coastal Bangladesh, 25 March 2014

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Visiting Professor Robert Nicholls
Engineering, University of Southampton, Southampton Boldrewood Innovation Campus, Burgess Road, Southampton, SO16 7QF

Room Number : 178/4011/B1

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