Professor Iris Moeller
Professor of Geography (1966)
Tel: + 353 1 896 2661
Office: Museum Building, Office
Prof Möller is a coastal geomorphologist working on how physical and biological processes interact at the coast, particularly in the intertidal zone (the area between tidal high and low water). She uses these insights to work with others within and beyond the discipline of Geography to develop integrative solutions for a coastal environment in which people are protected from flooding and erosion whilst also taking advantage of the many benefits healthy ecosystems have for humans. The monitoring and understanding of long-term coastal morphodynamics (the link between coastal landforms and the processes shaping them) forms a key component of her work, as does how we use these insights to adapt to a changed environmental future through climate change, sea-level rise, and altered storm frequency/severity.
- 2019-present: Professor of Geography (1966), Trinity College Dublin
- 2014-2019: Lecturer, University of Cambridge
- 1997-2019: Deputy Director, Cambridge Coastal Research Unit
- 2014-2015: Bye-fellow, Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge
- 2000-2014: College Lecturer, Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge
- 1997-1997: Research Scientist / Numerical Modeller, HR Wallingford Ltd
- 1993-1996 University of Cambridge, Department of Geography and Magdalene College PhD 'Wave attenuation over saltmarsh surfaces' (NERC Studentship)
- 1992-1993 University of Wales, Swansea, Department of Geography MPhil 'Post-fire vegetation recovery in mediterranean-type ecosystems'
- 1989-1992 Oxford University, BA Hons Geography
Our dynamic coast
Image credit: BR Evans (drone pilot)
To allow human society’s co-existence in close proximity to one of the most dynamic environments on Earth, our coasts, we need to understand better how and why coastal features change over time. The coast is home to a vast array of different land forms that can rapidly change in response to external drivers, such as sea level rise, altered sediment fluxes, altered atmospheric composition, and human land use. Given the complexity of the coastal system, field observations are crucial in allowing theories to be verified and tested. Similarly, the ability to control conditions in the laboratory context or in numerical models is important in allowing theory to be developed.
In recent years, Prof Möller has worked closely with specialists in deploying remote sensing methods via remotely controlled airborne vehicles (UAVs) and satellite (e.g. the Copernicus suite of Sentinels). Such methods allow the capture of frequent images of a rapidly changing environment without the logistical difficulties of working in treacherous terrain.
Using all of these methods, Prof. Möller and her team and collaborators have led and contributed to a range of project funded by the Royal Society and the Natural Environment Research Council of the UK as well as European Union Programmes, such as FP7 and Horizon 2020.
Coastal habitats and their landforms as natural storm buffers
Image credit: T Spencer
Since the 1990s, when Prof Möller’s research provided the first convincing field evidence for the sea defence service provided by salt marshes (Moeller et al. (1997 and 1999)), she and her team have continued to refine this knowledge. As a result, we now know that the wave buffering ability of salt marshes varies in relation to submergence depths, incident wave conditions, vegetation characteristics, and meteorological conditions (Möller (2006), Möller et al. (2001, 2009, 2011)). Using digital vegetation canopy imaging techniques (Möller, 2006), we can characterise the roughness of a vegetated surface. This is necessary to model the effect of vegetation on the flow of water (waves and tides) across coastal wetlands accurately (Christie et al., 2017). In collaboration with partners from across Europe, the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea shores, Prof. Möller led a large number of field monitoring projects. These recorded the wave buffering capacity of reed beds and salt meadows in a wide range of tidal settings and coastal contexts. How such environments function under scenarios of climate and sea level change is critical in determining their future economic and social value. Two large wave flume studies also form part of this body of work.
Specific Project Links:
- Foreshore Assessment using Space Technology: http://www.fast-space-project.eu/
- Physical and biological dynamic coastal processes and their role in coastal recovery (BLUE-coast): http://projects.noc.ac.uk/bluecoast/
- Incorporating natural coastal ecosystems into coastal flood risk models: http://www.risckit.eu/np4/home.html
- The Salt Marsh Experiment – a project blog for two Large Flume Studies: https://www.thesaltmarshexperiment.org/
How resilient are natural coastal buffers to extreme events
Image credit: I Möller
Over the past few decades, coastal geomorphology has been dominated, on the one hand, by process-based laboratory and modelling studies, and on the other hand, by conceptual models based on empirical relationships between wave and/or sedimentary parameters and coastal morphology. Due to the strongly non-linear behaviour of coastal morphological systems, neither of these approaches have succeeded in improving our ability to predict the long-term (1-10 year) evolution of coastal features at a variety of spatial scales. Although non-linear data-driven numerical modelling techniques have been widely used in other environmental disciplines (e.g. in the modelling of weather patterns or turbulence), they have only recently been used in the study of long-term coastal morphology. Analysis of beach profile data from Duck (Southgate and Möller, 2000) has shown that the long-term behaviour of coastal systems may be self-organised with less input from forcing parameters such as wave or tidal circulation than previously thought.
More recently, Dr Möller's work has worked with colleagues to better understand the morphological changes occurring over 10s of years on shallow coastal seas. This has included an assessment of the impact of extreme events, such as the 2013 storm surge on the UKs East coast (Spencer et al., 2015) and the measurement of the impact of true-to-scale storms in a laboratory setting on salt marsh surfaces and tidal flat to salt marsh transitions.
Response of Ecologically-mediated Shallow Intertidal Shores and their Transitions to extreme hydrodynamic forcing in UK settings: https://www.nerc-resist.uk/
The Salt Marsh Experiment – a project blog for two Large Flume Studies: https://www.thesaltmarshexperiment.org/
Bridging the gap between coastal science, education, management, and planning
Image credit: I Möller
Environmental and social change are creating unprecedented planning and policy challenges for coastal communities. Improving the communication and collaboration between a range of disciplines within the academic community (e.g. environmental science, sociology, psychology, policy, and engineering) as well as between academics and the various 'stakeholders' involved in coastal management and decision-making is key to addressing those challenges. Prof Möller has been actively involved in bridging the disciplines and reaching out beyond academia, e.g. through expert advice on the Water Framework Directive and by acting as scientific reviewer of the UK Climate Change Committee's 'Managing the Land in a Changing Climate' Report, alongside her active involvement in public engagement events and social media communications.
More recently, Dr Möller has contributed to the coastal component of the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) and towards 'Valuing the Contribution which COASTal habitats make to human health and WEllBeing' (CoastWEB).
- Winning video of Royal Geographical Society’s / Forestry Commission’s ‘Earth Photo 2019’ competition: https://youtu.be/4ZoPBfm2aBY
- Legacy of Britain’s Great Flood BBC news piece: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-21258341
Supervision of prospective PhD students is broadly restricted to the fields above. Please check the Trinity College Dublin web-site for information and contact Prof. Möller if you are interested in pursuing a research degree under her supervision.