Professor Alistair Borthwick
Professor of Applied Hydrodynamics
School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics (Faculty of Science and Engineering)
I have more than 40 years’ experience in civil and environmental engineering. After completing my doctorate, I worked for Brown & Root (UK) Ltd, helping design the Hutton Tension Leg Platform (the World’s first vertically moored, floating oil platform for deep-water applications) which won the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement in 1984. From 1990 to 2011, I was a Tutorial Fellow at St Edmund Hall and Lecturer, Reader, and then Professor in the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford. From 2007 to 2010, I was Deputy Head of Department and organized its Centenary celebrations. From 2011-13, I was Head of Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at University College Cork, where I was Founding Director of the €29M SFI Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland. MaREI now employs more than 200 people across Ireland, and involves more than 50 companies. I am an Emeritus Professor at The University of Edinburgh, where I was Professor of Applied Hydrodynamics from 2013-2019. I hold (or have held) adjunct professorships at seven universities in China, Ireland, and the UK. I am presently a Visiting Professor at Peking University and Visiting Distinguished Professor, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China (2018-2021).I was awarded an honorary degree by Budapest University of Technology and Economics in 2016, the Gold Medal from the Institution of Civil Engineers in 2019 for lifetime contributions to Civil Engineering, and the YanYuan Friendship Award by Peking University in 2020.
Employment History ...
Engineer, South West Water Authority, summers of 1976, 1977 and 1978.
Research Assistant and Demonstrator, Liverpool University, 1979-1982.
Engineer, Brown & Root (UK) Ltd, 1982–1983.
Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Water Resources, Salford University, 1984-1990.
Tutorial Fellow, St Edmund Hall Oxford, 1990-2011.
University Lecturer/Reader in Engineering Science, Oxford University, 1990-2002.
Professor of Engineering Science, Oxford University, 2002-2011. Deputy Head, 2007-2010.
Head, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, UCC, 2011-13.
Professor of Applied Hydrodynamics, U of Edinburgh, 2013-19, Professorial Fellow, U of Edinburgh, 2019-2021
Professor of Applied Hydrodynamics, U of Plymouth, 2021-24.
University of Liverpool, Civil Engineering BEng (1st Class) 1978
University of Liverpool, Civil Engineering PhD 1982
University of Oxford MA 1990
University of Oxford DSc 2007
Budapest Műegyetem Dr honoris causa 2016
Chartered Engineer CEng 1985
Institution of Civil Engineers MICE 1987
European Engineer (FEANI) Eur Ing 1988
Institution of Civil Engineers FICE 2003
Royal Academy of Engineering FREng 2014
Royal Society of Edinburgh FRSE 2015
Roles on external bodies
In the past 10 years, I have served on research assessment panels for the UK REF-14 and Italian Research Quality Exercises, chaired an Evaluation Panel for the Estonian Research Council, and reported to UK Government on issues relating to floods and energy security. I have reviewed university departments in Australia, Estonia, Ireland, South Korea, and the U.K.
I was a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Nominations Committee (2016-19) and the Lessells Committee (2017-19), a member of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Awards Committee (2016-19), and the Review Panel for the Global Challenges for Research Fund (GCRF) Networking Grants (2017).
I acted as an external reviewer for the 2017, 2018, 2019 State Natural Science Awards, People’s Republic of China.
Chair, International Scientific Advisory Committee for SFI MaREI Centre, Ireland (2014-)
Advisory Board of EPSRC CDT in Water Informatics at Exeter, Bath, and Cardiff Universities (2014-18).
Chair, Scientific Advisory Board for EU FP7 Marine Energy Research Accelerator, University of Highlands & Islands (2014-17).
Chair, RSE Working Group responding to U.K. Scottish Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the renewable energy sector in Scotland (2016).
Member, Scientific Advisory Committee of International Joint Laboratory for Regional Pollution Control (IJRC), Ministry of Education of China (2019-).Member, International Advisory Board for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Seoul National University, (2020-22).
MEng, MSc, and EngD lectures on Open Channel Flow, Hydraulic Engineering, and Marine Renewable Energy, and organised a Mechanical Engineering Design exercise. Lectured on tidal energy to the CDT on Wind and Marine Energy at the University of Strathclyde.
University College Cork [UCC] (2011-13)
BE lectures on Environmental Hydraulics.
University of Oxford (1990-2011)
MEng lecture courses on Mathematics, Fluid Mechanics, Heat Transfer, Hydraulics, Engineering Hydrology, Coastal Engineering, Offshore Engineering, Water Engineering, and Plates & Shells, and MSc lectures on Engineering Hydrology in the Geography Department.
Undergraduate teaching for St Edmund Hall, Oxford (1990-2011)
Tutorials in Mathematics, Energy Systems, Fluid Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Engineering & Society, and Environmental Risk & Sustainability.
Final Year Projects
I have supervised more than 100 final year dissertations. In 2012, my student, Maggie Creed, won a European SET Award from the Lloyd’s Register Education Trust for the Best Maritime Technology Student.
Staff serving as external examiners
I was external examiner of undergraduate courses at Warwick (2005-8), City (2009-12), and Manchester (2011-15), and postgraduate taught course at Edinburgh (2012-13). I sat on Review Committees at Dundee University (2011), Queensland University (2011), UCC (2012), and Seoul National University (2019). I was a member of the Programme Review Committee for Civil Engineering (& Architecture) at City University (2014), and External Reviewer of Proposed MSc courses at Imperial College (2016) and Dundee (2018). I am presently external examiner for civil engineering degree programmes at Swansea University.
Much of my career has focused on environmental fluid mechanics. In the 1980s, my research group investigated wave loading on flexibly mounted cylinders and floating offshore structures. From the 1990s onwards, my group studied nearshore currents at beaches, ocean dispersion of oil slicks, the inshore propagation of extreme storm-induced waves, and wave run-up and overtopping of coastal defences. Our methods for modelling free surface flows have been applied worldwide to floods (China, Mexico), water quality (Brazil, Morocco), wave-induced currents (Spain, Mexico), lake mixing (Hungary), fish passes (Japan), sea defences (UK), and offshore structures on the continental shelf (UK, USA). For more than 30 years, I have collaborated with colleagues in Hungary on the hydrodynamics of rivers and lakes, and in China on environmental engineering, in particular long-term human and climate change effects on the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. An important focus has been on the impacts of cascades of dams constructed along large rivers. Our work on biological and nano-technological methods for treating polluted wastewater effluent in China helped lead to the £30M Singapore-Peking-Oxford Research Enterprise. In recent years, my work has also encompassed marine renewable energy, in particular tidal stream power assessment and ocean wave statistics at offshore wind turbine sites.
My research has four main themes, each aimed towards an improved understanding of environmental flows.
The first theme is shallow environmental flow processes. In collaboration with Hungarian colleagues, my research group developed models of flows in rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal zones, which are used to simulate urban floods, reservoir flows, near-shore currents, debris flows, and internal density waves. Applications include wind-induced circulation in Lake Balaton (Hungary) and Nichupté Lagoon (Mexico), flood inundation of Thamesmead (London), water quality assessments for Sepetiba Bay (Brazil) and Nador Lagoon (Morocco), hurricane surge inundation of the coastlines of Tamaulipas and Quintana Roo States (Mexico), storm surge flooding of Walcott (UK), and suspended sediment motions in a mine tailings pond (Canada). In collaboration with colleagues at Manchester University, my group has also investigated the evolution of marine sandbanks in tidal flows. From 2010 onwards, with colleagues at Oxford and the University of Western Australia, I have studied the interaction between tidal power devices and their environment. We predicted that the tidal stream power available from the Pentland Firth might be capped at about 2 GW,
The second theme is coastal processes. From the 1990s onwards, my research group has investigated wave-induced nearshore currents, the dispersion of oil slicks in the ocean, the interaction of extreme storm-induced wave with beaches, and wave run-up and overtopping of coastal defences. A coastal flow solver, developed jointly with a collaborator from Mexico, has been applied to port design, harbour resonance, and wave climate problems at beaches in Spain and Mexico.
The third theme is ocean waves and their loading on maritime structures. In the 1980s, my research group developed mathematical models of the loading and response of cylinders in ocean waves, in particular the resonant responses of the cylinder to waves and vortices (relevant to the design of marine risers). I measured pressure distributions on cylinders in unsteady flows, useful for assessing the buckling sensitivity of the columns of floating offshore platforms. This methodology was used in the design of the Conoco Hutton Tension Leg Platform, the first such floating oil and gas platform to be installed in the North Sea. My group also investigated wave diffraction by arrays of vertical cylinders, using theoretical and experimental methods. My researchers have simulated unidirectional, oscillatory, orbital, and focused wave flows past a cylinder, the latter supplemented by laboratory experiments at Cornell University. In collaboration with scholars at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, I have investigated the statistics of irregular waves passing over the continental shelf, and steady state harmonic resonances of free surface and internal waves.
The fourth theme is environmental science and engineering – a subject of immense importance in modern China. Since my first visit to China in 1990, I have collaborated with environmental engineering colleagues at Peking University, Wuhan University, Beijing Normal University, China University of Geosciences (Beijing) and Tsinghua University on water science and engineering. In 1998-9, Prof. Jinren Ni of Peking University spent a year working in my research group in Oxford. Since then, I made more than 25 visits to PKU, initially contributing to joint research on kinetic theory for fluvial sediment transport, coastline reclamation of the Pearl River, and low flows and dyke breaches in the lower Yellow River. Over the years, I worked with scholars in China on water-sediment science, sustainable management of river basins, hazard zonation, all-material fluxes in large rivers, and water and wastewater treatment. Our research has led to more than 70 co-authored journal papers on environmental topics including global golden inland waterways, carbon and solute flux exchanges in the world’s large river basins, global trends in water and sediment variations of large rivers, sediment-laden floods in the lower Yellow River, long-term human and climate change effects on the Yellow River, sorption of contaminants on Yellow River sediment, spatial distributions of diatoms and chemical substances along the Yangtze River, hazard zonation (mapping debris flows, landslides, rock falls, soil erosion, and flood hazards throughout China), wind-blown sand transport, and the optimized operation of oxidation ditches. I have collaborated with colleagues at Wuhan University on advanced techniques for modelling debris flows and landslide-induced barrier lakes. Our research has contributed to improved biological and nano-technological methods for treating polluted wastewater effluent from coking, petroleum, leather tanning, and palm oil industries in China. We have worked on enhanced methods for the removal from water of heavy metals, phenols, ammonia, nitrates, sulphides, and natural organic matter. Recently, we helped resolve the mystery of vanishing rivers in China. In 2010, our long-term collaboration led to the Singapore-Peking-Oxford Research Enterprise (SPORE) for Water Eco-efficiency (2010-15), funded by a grant of 400 million RMB from the Singapore Education and Development Board. SPORE provided advanced technological solutions for drinking water, wastewater treatment, urban solid-waste management, water quality of waterways, and river rehabilitation. The research collaboration has also helped raise awareness in China of the societal and environmental impacts caused by the construction of cascades of dams along its major rivers.
I have co-authored more than 300 publications in journals, books and conferences, of which 227 have been published in peer-reviewed journals including J. Fluid Mechanics, Nature Comms, Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc., PNAS, Proc. Roy. Soc. A, and Scientific Reports.
I was founding Editor of Engineering and Computational Mechanics, and have served as a member of several editorial boards including J. Hydraulic Res. (2001-5), Int. J. of Dynamics of Fluids (2004-8), Ocean Engineering (2006-11), J. Risk Analysis and Crisis Response (2010-16), J. Ocean Science and Technology (2014-), J. Hydrodynamics (2016-), and Water (2020-).
Research degrees awarded to supervised students
I have co-supervised 61 doctoral students to completion.
I acted as external examiner/reviewer of 45 PhD and 2 MSc candidates in U.K., China, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, and Norway.
I have also acted as internal examiner to 1 DSc, 18 DPhil and 3 MSc candidates at Oxford, 1 PhD and 1 MEngSc at UCC, and 6 PhD candidates at Edinburgh.
Grants & contracts
Over the years, I have helped secure grants of total value about £65 million, including 20 EPSRC grants. These include about £4 million from the UK Research Councils, £30 million from Irish Research Councils and industry, £30 million from EDB Singapore and Sinomem Singapore, and about £1 million from other sources including the EU, British Council, The James Martin 21st Century School, and industry. A list of selected grants of which I have been a PI or Co-I is given below …
(1) SERC, Wave loading on a flexibly mounted small diameter cylinder, 1984-85, £13,000.
(2) SERC, Wave‑induced pressure distributions on a cylinder, 1985-87, £30,000.
(3) SERC, Morison loading in two‑dimensional planar flow and in waves, 1985-87, £34,000.
(4) EPSRC, GR/J07136, Efficient 3-D numerical modelling of nearshore currents on a parallel computer, 1993-96, £118,335.
(5) EPSRC, GR/J23167, Interaction of steep waves with structures, 1994-96, £93,827.
(6) Hungarian-British Science and Technology Programme, Refined flow and Transport Modelling in Shallow Environments, 1995-97, £8,600.
(7) EPSRC, GR/K04125, Measurements of multiple circulation cells and rip currents near a cusped beach, 1995-97, £128,573.
(8) EPSRC, GR/K61128, Non-linear fluid-structure analysis of a fast ship during slamming, 1995-97, £20,498.
(9) EPSRC, GR/L11861, Hierarchical adaptive meshing for modelling flow and pollutant transport in coastal waters, 1997-99, £68,774.
(10) EPSRC, GR/L24090, Coupled solution of the Navier-Stokes equations for marine hydrodynamic analysis, 1997-99, £93,701.
(11) EPSRC, GR/L92877, Refined localised modelling of coastal flow features, 1998-2001, £56,434.
(12) EPSRC, GR/M56401 and GR/M57910, Non-linear hydrodynamic effects on floating structures in extreme waves, 1999-2002, £244,108.
(13) EPSRC, GR/N21741 and GR/N22595, Extreme waves, overtopping and flooding at sea defences, 2000-03, £406,568.
(14) EPSRC, GR/R05369, 2D LDA measurements in the U.K. Coastal Research Facility, 2000-03, £53,757.
(15) EPSRC, GR/R13623, Chaotic advection in oscillatory shallow flows, 2001-04, £53,395.
(16) JIP, Limits on Waves in shallow water – LoWISH Part I, Joint Industry Project with Shell, BP, Chevron Texaco, Conoco Phillips, Total, and Woodside, 2004-6, £27,000.
(17) EPSRC, GR/S73402, Shallow-water morphodynamics: a fundamental experimental and numerical study of sandbanks, 2004-7, £211,368.
(18) EPSRC, RAIS, Morphodynamic modelling studies at HR Wallingford on effect of tidal processes on the coastal response to nearshore-detached breakwaters, 2007-8, £27,893.
(19) EPSRC, EP/F020511, Flood Risk Management Research Consortium (FRMRC) Phase 2, 2008-12, £7.385M.
(20) EPSRC, ET/H00002X/1, Performance Assessment of Wave and Tidal Array Systems (PerAWAT), 2009-13, £7.9M.
(21) KTP, Beach shoreline response model, KTP Grant with HR Wallingford Ltd, 2009-10, £44,066.
(22) JIP, Limits on Waves in shallow water – LoWISH Part II, Joint Industry Project with Shell, BP, Chevron Texaco, Conoco Phillips, Total, and Woodside, 2010, £15,000.
(23) The James Martin 21st Century School, Second Generation Tidal Energy Extraction, 2010-14, £588,700.
(24) EDB Singapore and Sinomem, Singapore-Peking-Oxford Research Enterprise (SPORE) for Water Eco-efficiency, 2010-15, S$63M.
(25) UK Government Office of Science, Foresight Impact Audit of Flood and Coastal Defence Project, 2010, £3276.
(26) KTP, Wave Overtopping and Flooding – With Applications to Extreme Storm and Tsunami Events, Knowledge Transfer Secondment with HR Wallingford Ltd, 2011-12, £19,358.
(27) EU FP7 Marie Curie International Research Exchanges, PIRSES-GA-2011-294976, Geohazards and Geomechanics, 2011-15, €37,800.
(28) IRCSET, R14723, A fast solver of the St Venant equations on binary-tree grids, 2012-15, €72,000.
(29) Science Foundation Ireland, 12/IRC/2302, SFI Centre for Marine Renewable Energy, €29M, 2013-19.
(30) Petroleum Infrastructure Programme, PIP IS13/01, DAFOIL – Downtime Assessment of Facilities Offshore of Ireland, 2013-15, €162,040.
(31) Scottish Energy and Climate Change Directorate, ERI 030053 R43039, Effective Marine Energy Design Subject to Ecological and Social Constraints, 2013-16, £50,000.
(32) UK-India Education and Research Initiative. UKIERI-DST-2014-15-035, Tidal Energy Resource Assessment for Potential Indian Sites and Impact of Energy Extraction on Environments, 2015-17, £25,050.
(33) EPSRC, EP/N021487/1, FloWTurb: Response of Tidal Energy Converters to Combined Tidal Flow, Waves, and Turbulence, 2016-2019, £972,628.
(34) NERC, NE/P015905/1, Dynamic Flood Topographies in the Terai, Nepal; community perception and resilience, 2017, £191,301.
(35) EPSRC, EP/R007632/1, Extreme wind and wave loads on the next generation of offshore wind turbines, 2017-2020, £982,152.
(36) NERC, NE/S009000/1, GCRF Multi-hazard urban disaster risk transitions hub, 2018-23, £19.6M of which £17.6 from UKRI.
(37) EPSRC, EP/V040227/1, EP/V040324/1, and EP/V040367/1, Flexible responsive systems in wave energy: FlexWave, 2021-24, £984,000.
Key publications are highlightedJournals
Reports & invited lectures
Recent Keynote and Invited Lectures ...
2011 ‘Water and Sediment, Waves and Floods’, Dugald Clerk Lecture, ICE, London.
2015 ‘Tides and Tidal Power from a Historical Perspective’, Royal Scottish Society of Arts.
2015 ‘Marine Renewable Energy Seascape’, 2nd Global Grand Challenges Summit, Beijing.
2019 ‘Journey to the East: China’s Golden Rivers’, Distinguished Scholar Seminar, PKU.
2019 ‘Uncertain Power from Shallow Flow’, Keynote Lecture, iSymWater2019 Beijing.
2020 ‘William Froude, a Devonian Civil Engineer’ Institution of Civil Engineers, Exeter.
2020 ‘Tides and Tidal Power’, Inaugural Ian Bryden Memorial Lecture, Titanic Hotel, Belfast.
2020 ‘Large Rivers in China’, Institution of Civil Engineers, Plymouth.
2020 ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’, 2020 MaREI Symposium, NUI Galway.
2021 ‘Flotsam, Jetsam, Lagan – Marine Plastic Debris’, 2021 ZCCE Workshop, Swansea.
Co-Chair, Int. Conf. on All Material Fluxes in Rivers AMFR-15, Peking University, Jan 2015.
Co-Chair, Inaugural Int. Symp. on Water Modelling (iSymWater2019), Beijing, July 2019.
Co-Chair, 2nd Int. Conf. on All Material Fluxes in Rivers AMFR-19, Peking University, Oct 2019.
Other academic activities
13th International Symposium on River Sedimentation, ISRS 2016, Stuttgart, Sept 2016.
Convenor, 13th Annual Meeting. of Asia Oceania Geosciences Society, Beijing, Sept. 2016.14th International Symposium on River Sedimentation, ISRS 2019, Chengdu, Sept 2019.
Member, Int. Scientific Committee, 2nd China-UK Urban Flooding Symp., Wuhan, Apr 2020.
I was a member of Steering Committee of the Young Coastal Scientists and Engineers Conference (2005-20), and organized 4th YCSEC in 2008.
Over the years, I have organised my research group as a community to develop talent. I have employed 21 research assistants, and co-supervised 61 doctoral and 7 MSc students to completion. Several of my ex-students have gone on to successful careers in academia (including 7 full professors, 1 reader, 2 associate professors, and 6 lecturers).