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  Understanding process interactions that cause wave overtopping for hazard managers

   School of Ocean and Earth Sciences

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  Dr J Brown  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

A 1m rise in mean sea level is almost certain this century and it is estimated that 20% of England’s coastal defences could fail under just half this rise (Committee on Climate Change, 2018). Ambitious climate adaptation plans may protect 400,000 – 500,000 people, but we cannot build infinitely high sea walls. Better ways to forecast and respond to coastal hazards are essential. It is critical to identify what wave-tide process drive different types of wave overtopping and understand how they interact with varying beach-structure profiles. Future sea levels and beach lowering are likely to change the combinations of processes that pose the greatest hazard. Identification of the tipping points in overtopping hazard drives is crucial for strategic management and response planning.     

The research will identify key process interactions that cause asymmetry in wave overtopping hazard during a tidal cycle. Using WireWall wave overtopping observations, numerical tools will be calibrated prior to exploring climate and sea level scenarios aimed at investigating future coastal dynamics that could influence hazard response protocols and management. 

Wave overtopping frequency, duration and intensity observations collected at Dawlish and Penzance between March 2021 and March 2022 will be analysed to identify event-scale interactions that mediate wave overtopping conditions. Advanced numerical tools (Bayonet GPE) that accompany industry guidance for predicting overtopping hazard (EurOtop) will be used to isolate process contributions and expand the parameter space to include additional coastal structures and conditions. The impacts of changing sea level and beach level will be simulated to identify trigger levels in overtopping hazard. The process understanding and climate impacts analysis will be shared with coastal hazard managers (e.g., the Environment Agency and Network Rail). At Dawlish the new understanding will be compared with safety protocols for train operations to identify potential optimisations that could reduce delay and cancellation costs.  

Specific training will include:  

  • Programming in Matlab or Python. 
  • Analysis of coastal monitoring data collected by the National Network or Regional Coastal Monitoring Programmes.  
  • Analysis of the novel WireWall wave overtopping measurements.  
  • Participation in HR Wallingford’s wave action on coastal structures course will teach the candidate about the empirical relations used to predict overtopping.  
  • Learning to use numerical tools to predict wave overtopping hazard in response to different wave, water level and beach-structure profile conditions.  

Candidates will possess:

  • Good degree (first class or upper second) in physics, mathematics, engineering, oceanography, geography or meteorology. 
  • Experience in data analysis and writing basic data processing scripts.  


Apply online: Search for a Postgraduate Programme of Study ( Select programme type (Research), 2024/25, Faculty Environmental and Life Sciences, select Full-time or Part-time, next page select “PhD Ocean & Earth Science (FLOOD CDT). In Section 2 of the application form you should insert the name of the supervisor.

PhD FLOOD CDT – full-time (programme length of 48 months) – code 9215

PhD FLOOD CDT – part-time (programme length of 84 months) – code 9216

Engineering (12) Environmental Sciences (13) Geography (17) Mathematics (25) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

The CDT will provide at least 56 fully funded PhD studentships over 4 cohorts, with first entry of 16 doctoral researchers staring in October 2024. The studentship will cover UK course fees and an enhanced tax-free stipend of year for 3.5 years along with a budget for research, travel, and placement activities. Details of the studentship amount can be found on the NERC web-site:


Enríquez, …, Haigh (2022) Predictable changes in extreme sea levels and coastal flood risk due to long‐term tidal cycles. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans,
Yelland, Brown, …, Pullen, … (2023) A system for in-situ, wave-by-wave measurements of the speed and volume of coastal overtopping. Communications Engineering,
Wyncoll, Haigh, Gouldby, et al. (2016) Spatial analysis and simulation of extreme coastal flooding scenarios for national-scale emergency planning. 3rd European Conference on Flood Risk Management,

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