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Fingerprinting storm and tsunami sediment signatures: Assessing future coastal resilience challenges from extreme events

School of Social Sciences

Dundee United Kingdom Climate Science Environmental Biology Environmental Engineering Geography

About the Project

The number of deaths attributed to natural hazards continues to rise, despite progress in implementing disaster risk reduction strategies. From 1990 to 2019, more than 1.7 million people died in internationally reported natural hazards. Despite the efforts to address sustainable development goals on climate change and to implement risk reduction strategies and promote hazard awareness in vulnerable areas, more research is needed to build improved resilience in affected communities and to limit the scale of impacts from climate-related hazards and disasters. This Cross-School, multidisciplinary project will open new research opportunities to explore the scales of impact and legacy from catastrophic coastal events, such as large-scale storms and tsunamis, through innovative investigations of coupled hydrodynamic, hydrogeological and morphodynamic sedimentary processes within affected coastal regions and the resulting socio-economic and environmental impacts on vulnerable communities. The study will combine controlled laboratory-based experiments with the interpretation of sedimentary and groundwater data from affected coastal sites to identify process analogues and signatures within coastal sediment deposits, thus aiding the recognition and characterisation of the “region of impact” from historic and pre-historic coastal storm and tsunami events.

The specific objectives include:
1. To develop new hazard assessment frameworks to determine the scale of risks impacts from the future occurrence of these types of devastating coastal events.
2. To develop new guidelines by which the resilience of vulnerable coastal communities to short-term shocks (i.e. individual tsunami or storm events) and the longer-term legacy from environmental change (i.e. rising sea levels, increasing storm frequency and magnitude) can be enhanced.
3. To improve physical understanding of the underlying interactions between tsunami and/or storm hydrodynamics and the sedimentary, hydrogeological and morphological response of the coastal margins affected, especially in the nearshore region.
4. To inform other related risks from these events such as (i) increased likelihood of saline intrusion into drinking water supplies (surface waterbodies and aquafers), (ii) impacts on critical infrastructure, and (iii) increased risks of waterborne diseases.

The proposed methods will combine research at different spatial scales: experimental measurements within scaled, controlled laboratory simulations will be coupled with detailed field measurements at an analogue site in the UK (e.g. Montrose basin) and analysis of data from international sites of interest (e.g. South China Sea, Pacific Ocean) where the impacts from historic/prehistoric coastal events can be identified and quantified. Within the experimental studies, physical interactions between the hydrodynamic, sediment transport, morphodynamic and hydrogeological process initiated by these catastrophic coastal events will be studied. These laboratory simulations will be conducted within existing and new experimental facilities (i.e. tsunami wave basin and tidal inlet facility) in the Environmental Fluid Mechanics laboratory of SSEN. It is proposed that the field studies and data interpretation will take place for UK and international coastal sites (see above) where past extreme events are known to have occurred.

For more information about the Geography and Environmental Science group, please see

For informal enquiries about the project, contact Professor Sue Dawson ()
For general enquiries about the University of Dundee, contact

Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a first or 2.1 UK honours degree, or equivalent for degrees obtained outside the UK in a relevant discipline.

English language requirement: IELTS (Academic) score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 5.5 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s English language requirements are available online:


Step 1: Email Professor Sue Dawson () to (1) send a copy of your CV and (2) discuss your potential application and any practicalities (e.g. suitable start date).

Step 2: After discussion with Professor Dawson, formal applications can be made via UCAS Postgraduate. When applying, please follow the instructions below:

Apply for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Geography & Environmental Science: Select the start date and study mode (full-time/part-time) agreed with the lead supervisor.

In the ‘provider questions’ section of the application form:
- Write the project title and ‘’ in the ‘if your application is in response to an advertisement’ box;
- Write the lead supervisor’s name and give brief details of your previous contact with them in the ‘previous contact with the University of Dundee’ box.

In the ‘personal statement’ section of the application form, outline your suitability for the project selected.

Funding Notes

There is no funding attached to this project. The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses, via external sponsorship or self-funding.

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