I am Professor of Geography at Trinity College Dublin with over 25 years of experience of research on coasts. My research straddles the physical-human Geography interface in that it explores potential solutions to key societal challenges associated with the ever increasing population within coastal regions and the increasing threat of coastal flooding and erosion faced by such populations as coastal landforms respond to a rise in sea level, storm intensity and frequency. As a coastal geomorphologist, I am interested in how coastal landforms such as salt marshes act as natural buffers against waves and high water levels. I conducted the first field and true-to-scale laboratory observations on North-west European salt marshes to prove that their vegetation cover, when inundated at high tide, significantly reduces wave energy (and protects landward lying coastal defences) compared to unvegetated surfaces.
Together with international teams of coastal scientists I have conducted two true-to-scale wave flume experiments to prove that the wave buffering function of salt marshes is present even during extremely high storm surges and that the marsh itself suffers little surface erosion during such extreme events. Our teams are also now investigating how different plant characteristics (e.g. rigidity and density) affect this wave energy dissipation. This research has taken me to coastal locations in the US, Europe and Asia. I am currently leading an experimental project, the RESIST project (‘Response of Ecologically-mediated Shallow Intertidal Shores and their Transitions to extreme hydrodynamic forcing’ funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 Hydralab+ and the Natural Environment Research Council, Grant NE/R01082X/1). I provide input at national and regional level to policy discussions on coastal adaptation to climate change and nature-based coastal protection.