Reader in coastal geomorphology, Birkbeck, University of London

I am a physical geographer with interests in the modelling and management of coastal environments.

My research interests include:
- coastal processes (particularly swash and beach groundwater and mixed sand and gravel beaches)
- flooding (particularly flood insurance)
- coastal adaptation to climate change

In recent years my research has become more applied, as I have become increasingly interested in policy-relevant science. I am interested in both the physical and social processes that affect flood risk and coastal hazards. I’ve become increasingly convinced that what’s likely to make the biggest difference in future, particularly in urban areas, is how we adapt to rising sea levels – where we build, what we build and how we build. This has led to my newest research interest, on flood insurance, planning, and development in coastal hazard zones and how the control of development in at-risk areas can help to reduce future risks due to climate change.

Flood insurance

I am working on a comparative study of flood insurance provision in the UK and the US with Dr Michael McShane of the Department of Finance in the College of Business and Public Administration at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, as part of their Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative. Dr McShane runs the ODU Insurance and Financial Services Center and co-founded the ODU Emergent Risk Initiative. The CCSLRI is a multi-disciplinary research initiative involving researchers from across the whole university, focussing on the impact of climate change and sea level rise on metropolitan communities that are situated at or close to sea level. Norfolk, Virginia, has the second highest vulnerability to sea level rise in the US (after New Orleans). This research project was the first visiting scholarship appointed under the CCSLRI and focuses on the role of insurance in adaptation to climate change, particularly flood risks.

Insurance can be used as a risk-sharing mechanism to increase resilience in the face of the flood peril. However, the way in which flood insurance is implemented varies widely by country, and no two countries are more different than the US and the UK. Globally, the US has the most public flood insurance program and the UK the most privatised. In the US, flood coverage is excluded from property policies provided by private insurers, and is only available from the federal government via the National Flood Insurance Program. In contrast, the UK insurance market is unique in having an entirely market-based scheme without direct government involvement, with the financial costs of floods borne entirely by the private sector. Even though the two countries are at polar opposites in the government/private insurance divide, both programs are in crisis and under intense debate. Following massive payments for flood claims related to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the NFIP deficit has ballooned to about $28 billion, prompting calls to bring private insurance back into the flood insurance business. The UK is embarking on a major change in the flood insurance market. The agreement on flood insurance between the Government and the insurance industry expired on 31 July 2013 and a new flood insurance scheme, Flood Re, is being negotiated between the Association of British Insurers and the UK government. We have a paper coming out in Nature Climate Change which describes Flood Re and assesses the extent to which Flood Re is likely to promote adaptation.


  • –present
    Reader in coastal geomorphology , Birkbeck, University of London


  • 1991 
    Oxford , DPhil Geography