Impact of sea-level rise on atoll islands


It is a widespread expectation that sea-level rise will render low-lying islands formed on coral reef platforms uninhabitable within decades due to increased flooding. Such projections are largely founded on assumptions that islands are geologically inert landforms, whereas, in reality, they have the ability to morphologically respond to changing sea levels. Specifically, overwash processes can raise the island crest level, implying that islands are dynamic and will not drown in place. Such change in perception has implications for how reef island communities can adapt to climate change. 

The project

This PhD project is part five-year project titled ‘Natural adaptation of coral reef islands to sea-level rise offering opportunities for ongoing human occupation’, involving a large research team comprising several academics, researchers, PhD students and project partners. This larger project involves large-scale laboratory experiments in the Delta Flume in the Netherlands, fieldwork in the Maldives and the Pacific, numerical modelling of atoll island morphodynamics, assessment of implications of sea-level rise for atoll communities and exploration of adaptation strategies to extend island habitability. 
This PhD will contribute to this larger project by focusing on the delivery of reef-produced carbonate sediment to the reef platform–atoll island system by investigating the associated sediment pathways and sediment transport processes using in situ measurements, sediment analysis and numerical modelling. These sediment transport processes are fundamental to atoll island dynamics and the impact of rising sea level on these islands.
The successful candidate will be part of the Coastal Processes Research Group, an internationally recognised group of researchers, specialising in field studies and numerical modelling of coastal processes. This PhD project provides the opportunity to gain a range of advanced skills as the project includes large-scale physical modelling in the world’s largest wave flume, field surveys on atoll islands in the Maldives and the Pacific, and advanced numerical modelling. By the end of the project, the PhD student should be imminently employable as a post-doctoral researcher or a high-level coastal/marine adviser in a GO, NGO or consultancy.
We are seeking a PhD candidate with a background in marine science, physical geography, geology or coastal engineering with strong numeracy, communication and interpersonal skills, as well as an affinity for the marine environment. Experience in the analysis of large marine data sets (using, e.g., Matlab or Python) is essential; numerical modelling expertise and knowledge of coastal sediment transport processes are highly desirable. 

Other collaborators

Professor Paul Kench of Singapore National University