The University of Southampton
Engineering and the Environment
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Professor Robert Nicholls BSc PhD

Professor of Coastal Engineering

Professor Robert Nicholls's photo
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Professor Robert Nicholls is Professor of Coastal Engineering within Engineering and the Environment 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. 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 deltaic areas which are the most threatened coastal setting in the coming century. He has also been involved in a number of international assessments, and in particular the International 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 is co-lead of the World Climate Research Programme Grand Challenge on 'Regional sea-level change and coastal impacts' which will organise 'Sea Level 2017' at Columbia University in July 2017. Robert is a member of the Editorial Board of the new journal “Anthropocene Coasts







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 are the future of deltaic areas which are the most threatened coastal setting in the coming century.

This includes lead authorship 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 studies 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 was 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.

Currently he is Principal Investigator/Co-Investigator on a number of major projects. He led the NERC-funded iCOASST Project (2012-2016) which concernsed"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. 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

The other active projects are:

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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.

Robert analyses the impact of sea-level rise at global and European scales using the Dynamic Interactive VULnerability Assessment (DIVA) modelling framework.


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


Robert's research in deltas draws together diverse data across biophysical, socio-economic and governance domains to address complex development questions in areas vulnerable to sea-level rise.


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

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

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.





Book Chapters



Working Papers

Code Title Role



Robert's teaching involves undergraduate and postgraduate contributions to both the Civil Engineering Programmes, most particularly the MSc Engineering in the Coastal Environment which he co-directs with Dr. Ivan Haigh at the National Oceangraphy Centre. to find out more, the course also has it's own blog, run by a former student. He also leads the University of Southampton involvement in the Erasmus Mundus MSc Coastal and Marine Engineering and Management (CoMEM), which is lead by NTNU (Trondheim) and also involves Delft University of Technology, UPC (Barcelona) and City University (London).

Saltmarsh at Hurst Spit
Student visit
Professor Robert Nicholls
Engineering and the Environment University of Southampton Highfield Southampton SO17 1BJ

Room Number:7/5027

Telephone:(023) 8059 4139

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