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Assessing unintended consequences of structural coastal flood protection

Floods are the most frequent and damaging natural hazards, with impacts expected to increase significantly due to future climate and socio-economic changes. Historically, hard engineering coastal defences (e.g., seawalls) have been the preferred and/or widely used response measures for adapting to these risks in many parts of the world. However, with the growing risks of sea-level rise and associated cost implications of maintaining/upgrading defences under extreme climates and growing socio-economic and environmental pressures, such measures are potentially unsustainable in the long-term. Moreover, continued upgrading of flood defences can lead to more settlements and increased concentration of high-value assets in flood-prone areas.

Previous studies have demonstrated that such policy may also lead to a sense of complacency, potentially resulting in reduced/lack of flood preparedness and response plan. Such approach often leads to a vicious cycle of continued and prohibitively expensive investment and potentially catastrophic consequences in case of unexpected failures (e.g., Di Baldassarre et al. 2018).

The aim of this project is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the unintended consequences of flood defences (also referred as the ‘safety dilemma’) and potential implications on future flood risk management policy choices based on a comparative analysis of different case studies. This project is most suitable for potential PhD candidates with programming skills or those with an interest in developing such skills.


Di Baldassarre, G., Kreibich, H., Vorogushyn, S. et al. (2018) An interdisciplinary research agenda to explore the unintended consequences of structural flood protection. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 22: 5629–5637.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you woold be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: https://www.brunel.ac.uk/research/Research-degrees/Research-degree-funding. The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)

Abiy Kebede - Dr Kebede is a Lecturer in Flood and Coastal Engineering within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, Design and Physical Sciences at Brunel University London. He is also a key member of the Centre for Flood Risk and Resilience (CFR2). Prior to joining Brunel, Abiy worked as a Researcher at the University of Southampton, where he also did his PhD and MSc studies. His current research interests span from understanding the food-water-land-ecosystems nexus interactions and implications for sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to assessing the potential impacts of climate change, sea-level rise and climate extremes and risks of flooding, and quantifying the costs and benefits of engineering and nature-based solutions to climate change challenges at different spatial (from local to global) and temporal (from short- to long-term) scales for informing robust adaptation policies. His work explores the following key research questions:
  • What are the physical, socio-economic and environmental impacts of climate change, sea-level rise and climate extremes in coastal areas and deltas?
  • What are the implications of historic coastal landfills on shoreline management planning?
  • What are the direct and indirect impacts and key uncertainties of future changes in climate and socio-economic conditions?
  • How can we devise robust adaptation policies across multiple sectors, scales, and scenarios?