What is climate change?
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This episode is all about climate change. What is it? Have you forgotten your secondary school geography and aren't entirely sure what the difference between weather and climate is anymore? Do you wonder if climate change and global warming are actually the same thing? Have you ever asked yourself just how much of an impact humans are having on our climate? And is there anything that can be done to avoid catastrophic climate change?
I asked professor Iris Moeller to help me answer these questions. Iris is Professor of Geography and head of the Department of Geography of the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. She's a coastal geomorphologist working on how physical and biological processes interact at the coast, particularly in the intertidal zone, which is the area between tidal high and low water. She uses these insights to work with others, to develop solutions for a coastal environment where people are protected from flooding and erosion, but also taking advantage of the many benefits that healthy ecosystems have for humans. The monitoring and understanding of long-term coastal morphodynamics, which is 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 and severity.
I began by asking her what is climate change?
Iris: So that's a very good question. I always like to break things down logically into the components. So these are two words here, climate and change. Okay. And, if we take climate first, then climate refers to the state of the atmosphere over time. And so it's basically the measure of temperature, if you think what the atmosphere actually is, you know, the atmosphere is the composition of gases. It has a certain temperature. It might move. So there is wind involved, directions and speed. It might also have clouds within it to different degrees and they might drop precipitation, rain, or snow, all of these components, form parts of what we call the climate, but what makes it the climate is that it's the state of the atmosphere over a prolonged period of time. And generally people work on around 20 years or so talking about climate.
However, that's when we talk about climate on a large scale. We often distinguish between spatial scale - scale, you know, in space, across which something takes place, or through time. And if we talk about climate on a much smaller spatial scale, we can also have things like microclimates. So for example, on the top of a mountain, you would have a different climate than you might have at the bottom of the mountain. And those are then also climates, and they may maybe change over more rapid timescales than 20 or 30 years. And so climate change by definition, then is when these average kind of conditions of temperature, wind, and precipitation, when they change over these long timescales.
Jenny: Are climate change and global warming, are they the same thing or is there a difference?
Iris: They are not the same thing and they're not the same thing for a number of reasons, at least two here that are really important. Obviously change can occur in different directions. You know, you can have a change that goes up or down, negative or positive, you know, you could change direction left or right while you're driving. So global warming implies that the trend is in one direction. So it's definitely not the same just from that perspective alone, because we could have global cooling, right. And climate is not necessarily a global thing either. So climate can change. For example, the climate of Ireland might change, but global warming might not be happening at the same time. There's a number of reasons why regional climates or the microclimates that we talked about earlier, why they might change, and that may have nothing to do with global warming. On the other hand, global warming might take place, but that might not affect the climate of particular regions. So they are connected, but they're not exactly the same.
Jenny: Okay. So then to go to another term, then. You're talking about microclimates and how climate is over prolonged length of time. So what then is the difference between climate and weather? Like, how should we distinguish between the two of those?
Iris: Really good question. And there's often a lot of confusion around this, isn't there, in the media and as people talk about the weather and say, you know, now we've got this lovely Indian summer at the moment, and, you think is that due to climate change? And I think that confusion arises because both of those measures use the same sort of parameters to define them. So, you know, we're looking at temperatures globally to define global climate change, but we're also looking at temperatures when we talk about the weather. So to understand what the difference is, we need to look at that kind of similarity and then ask, well, okay, so both deal with temperature, precipitation, wind and so on, but again, the big difference here is the timescale. So weather happens over short periods of time, you know, it can be hot today, it be colder tomorrow. The variability is really high in weather on a daily basis. And even seasonally, you can have huge changes over the course of the year. Climate we only really talk about as the average condition, the general condition, at a time of year, or the general condition over 20, 30 years. So you would measure what the condition, what the weather condition is usually over a prolonged time scale. And then you say that that is the climate. So you can't really infer anything from any particular day's conditions about the longer-term climate, unless you have your thermometer out there and you measure the temperature fluctuations over 20 or 30 years or so. And then you can make a statement about what the temperatures are usually like at this time of year.
Jenny: So do we know how much of a role humans actually play in climate change?
Iris: Yes. If we define the climate in the way we just have, so you're looking over at, you know, 20 or 30 years or more, we know that humans have played a significant role in effecting the climate globally, also regionally as a result of that. And the key reason that we know that is that we know that there is a connection between greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the amount of heat radiation that is retained on earth from the sun. So, you know, all the energy on the earth for the growing of organisms and anything else, it comes to a very, very high majority, you know, 90 something percent from the sun's radiation and however many greenhouse gases are in the atmosphere determines how much of that radiation is retained within the atmosphere, and warms the atmosphere, CO2 primarily. And we know that CO2 has been much higher than it currently is in the atmosphere over the earth's long geological history. So for example about 500 million years ago, you know, this is an insane time scale that we find difficult to imagine, but over that kind of timescale, we know the Earth's atmosphere has had 4,000 parts per million of carbon dioxide in it at one time, 500 million years ago. They have been much lower, the concentrations of carbon dioxide over the, what we call the quaternary, the last two and a half, 2.6 million years ago, still a very long time ago. And over that time, we know that the CO2 concentrations have been as low as 180 parts per million. So we just talked about 4,000 500 million years ago, 180 parts per million over the course of the last two and a half million years.
And they've gone up and down over that time. And associated with that, and we know this for sure, because we've got geologists, geomorphologists studying the evidence on our planet, we know for sure that the temperatures have fluctuated. So when there has been less CO2 in the atmosphere, we've seen temperatures that have been eight, nine, sometimes 10 degrees lower than today. And so the lowest temperatures over the last two and a half million years ago occurred when CO2 was at around 180 parts per million. Now we are seeing CO2 at around 400 parts per million and the highest we've ever seen it over the last 2.5 million years or so ago was 300 parts per million. So now we are actually exceeding the highest CO2 concentrations and we also know that that is the case because we know how much CO2 has been emitted as a result of industrial activity due to humans.
We know that that extra hundred parts per million is due to human activity on the planet. And that has released CO2 into the atmosphere. We know that CO2 captures the long wave radiation that the earth emits after it absorbs the sun's radiation. And then that trapped radiation effectively, which is why they're called greenhouse gases, heats up the atmosphere. And it's just a physical fact. You know, it's like gravity. It's the way the molecules of CO2 react with the long wave radiation that is re-emitted from the earth after the earth absorbs the shortwave rays from the sun. So we know CO2 has risen by around 280 parts per million, in fact, since the Industrial Revolution, up to the 400 we're seeing now. And we also know that other greenhouse gases have risen, like methane, which has more than doubled since pre-industrial times, and is a much, much more effective trapper of this long wave radiation, much more effective at increasing the atmospheric temperatures. So yes, we know that humans have had a significant impact on the climate is the answer.
Jenny: Just as an aside, when you're talking about, you know, knowing how many parts per million, there were say 500 million years ago or something, how do we actually measure that? How do we know?
Iris: Yeah. So thank you for asking that question. I mean, it's very interesting because the further back we go the less direct the evidence becomes for increased CO2 in the atmosphere. So if you go all the way back to millions and even billions of years within the earth's history, we indirectly infer the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere from what we know about how the earth was configured, where the land masses were, how much ocean there was, where the ocean was and what evidence we have by way of the fossil record, for example. As we go closer to the present day, I mean, ultimately we get to fossils that indicate much more lush conditions. We know the conditions would have been suitable for the growth of vegetation. We know that would have drawn down CO2, and we also can infer CO2 from evidence we have for the breakdown of rock, for example, weathering rates and the sedimentary records within our oceans. So all of that kind of is indirect evidence for what we think was the CO2 concentration at the time. The most reliable records in more recent times that goes back to around 800,000 years is the ice core record, of course, and in the ice that forms near the poles, the snow that accumulates on a seasonal basis, compacts then into ice over time, but it traps the atmosphere within bubbles in the ice. And so if we drill down into the ice in the Arctic and the Antarctic, we can find a record of the atmospheric composition as it was exactly at the time when the snow was deposited or rather when the snow bubbles became locked away from the present atmosphere at that time.
And so we know from that record, that CO2 concentrations have fluctuated a lot over the last 800,000 years. They've gone down to less than 200 parts per million and up to around 300, but over the last 300,000 years, they have never been over 300 parts per million. And we can track that record all the way to the present day. But then there's a really interesting thing you can do, and I thought, I must tell your listeners to do this. So if you Google the Keeling Curve, you'll see that there's an observatory actually in Hawaii, it's all the way at the top of the mountain, and that measures the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere as we speak. So you can see in there seasonal variations and CO2 concentrations, and also you can see the rapid rise in CO2 since the 1950s.
So the observations there go back to 1958, I think. So we have a number of different sources that we can draw on. And of course the strengths of what we know is much increased when the evidence from different sources ties in with one another. So for example, we can look at the oldest ice core records and compare them with ocean records of CO2. And oceans of course also carry CO2 within the water. And we know there's a relationship between oceanic CO2 concentrations and atmospheric CO2 concentrations, because the two sort of equilibrate against one another. And in fact, the colder the ocean, the more CO2 the ocean can hold relative to the atmosphere. So this is one of the concerns with the oceans heating up. So actually their capacity to store CO2, at least in the surface ocean becomes much less. And so, you know, there's a lot of different evidence that we can draw on to look at CO2 concentrations. But, you know, we are certain that within the last 800,000 years, while the earth was in its tectonic configuration and everything else was how it is today, we have never seen CO2 concentrations exceed 300 parts per million. And of course preindustrial levels were 260 parts per million or thereabouts. So that increase since then has really been quite phenomenal.
Jenny: Okay. So I know it's really hard to predict changes, but we've established that humans have definitely had an impact on the climate. So are there specific things that we can point out that have already happened and say, yeah, we did that?
Iris: Yeah. So there is since - it's interesting when I started my undergraduate degree, actually the first report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change came out. That was the first ever time that international scientists had been, had got together under commission from the governments basically to look at the evidence for climate change. And that was in 1989. And we've since had many more of those reports, all of which have gathered the evidence together for the impacts that have already happened as a result of this rise in temperature. So the main impact of course, is an overall temperature rise, that it has been much more than it would otherwise have been, and can only be explained by the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. There are also indications that the frequency of extremes in certain regions has rapidly increased over the last 20 years or so.
So, we know for example, that the record for the UK between 1884 and 2018 of the atmospheric temperatures, if you look at that, then the 10 hottest years in the UK all happened in the last 17 years of that timeframe. So those are then, you know, real climatic changes that are not explainable without factoring in this additional CO2 in the atmosphere. There's no other natural process that can explain that kind of change. And these intergovernmental panel on climate change reports, really have kind of gathered together numerous evidence on the impact on organisms and ecosystems, as well as human systems and of course human wellbeing as a result of those rises in temperature. So, you know, it is quite significant if you think about the 10 degree difference in temperature, we have maximally had 10 to 11 degrees between glacier periods when the earth was covered in huge ice sheets in North America and Northwestern Europe, and Ireland, and the UK, and that was only with 10 or 11 degrees less than we have today.
And since 1850, we have had a temperature rise of nearly a degree C - 0.9 degrees C also. So that is a phenomenal rise in temperature that is not down to natural variability. We also have high confidence that we have more frequent heat waves, increased frequency of and duration of them, increased frequency of heavy rainfall events, for example, and of drought, for example, in the Mediterranean region. And there are studies on all of this that have been scientifically reviewed and that are rigorous and that have shown that we already have this evidence.
Jenny: So, something that we'd hear a bit about is kind of the rising sea levels. And I suppose to bring it home to us, given that Ireland is such a relatively small island, what would even a small rise in sea levels look like for us?
Iris: Yeah, no good question. I mean, the rise in sea levels is another one of those impacts, and it is a global impact. When people talk about sea level rise, it's always really important to remember that how sea level rise is experienced in any one place on earth is not just the factor of how much additional water makes it into the ocean, or even how much the water in the oceans expands because it's warming. And, you know, if you heat water up it expands, and so that thermal expansion adds a significant component to the global sea level rise that you often hear talked about. And if we look at the latest projections, the kind of medium range scenario of emissions, which actually goes slightly beyond the low emissions scenario in line with the Paris Agreement, would project at least 60 centimeters of a rise in global sea level by the end of the century. If you assume that we are all going to meet the Paris agreement on climate change, which it doesn't look like as the global community we will, but even if we were to meet that agreement's targets, then we would expect to see them rise globally, to rise by 43 centimeters by the end of the century. But that is the global average level of sea level. Now, when you go to an individual country and you ask the question about Ireland, how an individual country experiences that rise in sea level, it depends on whether the land levels within that country are rising or sinking, for example. In some areas around the globe, but largely the big Delta regions, for example, the Ganges Brahmaputra Delta, the Yangtze, the Amazon, the Mississippi Delta, those big deltas are really large low-lying regions that are also sinking due to the weight of sediment that has deposited as a result of the river flow over many, many millennia.
And when the land levels are sinking and sometimes the sinking is due to human impacts as well, when we extract gas or oil, like in Mississippi, for example, that can have a significant impact on the land levels. So in those countries, really the sea level rise is actually going to be much, much higher than 43 centimeters by the end of the century. And in Ireland, we are relatively fortunate because we haven't got that kind of situation, we haven't got anywhere where we are experiencing an additional drop in the land levels to that global sea level rise. However, Ireland has other challenges that come with that because, as you know, the weather in Ireland is very changeable and that is because we're in the mid-latitudes here and the winds are primarily westerly winds. It's all tied to a really interesting, massive global wind system, which is called the jet stream, the mid-latitudes jet stream, which happens many kilometers above our heads and benefits the air traffic.
If you're flying East you often benefit from that huge air stream, but it means the winds are always coming from the West and they bring the remnants of tropical hurricanes. And, you know, we've recently had storm Frances and Ellen, and what have you. And those are sometimes the result of hurricanes that have happened in the Western Atlantic that then track across the Atlantic and hit Ireland. And now, in addition to that, we're at something that's called the polar front, where the cold polar air mass meets the warm subtropical air masses, that flow northwards. And when these two air masses meet, you get really unstable conditions and they form strong weather systems that can drop a lot of rainfall in a very short period of time. The thinking is, and the evidence seems to back this up, that with a change in global climate we will get more frequent, extreme rainfall events, and we will also get more frequent storm surges as a result of those storms reaching the coast of Western Ireland. So anywhere in Western Ireland, you know, West and South coast estuaries and lochs, Cork, Castlemaine, you know, those kinds of areas will be likely to be hardest hit by an increase in extreme coastal storm surges. And the heavy rainfall will of course, mean that, you know, when you get one of those storm surges, which actually lifts the water level up much beyond the rising sea level, you can have a storm surge that adds another, a meter and a half to two meters on top of the usual water level in any one event in a very short period of time together with strong winds, really hard, heavy powerful waves, that can be disastrous for some of those local communities, particularly within the estuarine settings and on the West coast of Ireland.
And then you go to the East coast and you've got the Irish sea, which also can experience storm surges. And in fact, can experience storm surges from storms that are coming, you know, as a result of us being in this sort of mid latitude position between the cold polar air and the subtropical air, and they can form in the Irish Sea itself and they can throw easterly winds at places like, you know, Dublin Bay, and then you have the Ringsend area of Dublin. You have Malahide, Rogerstown, those kind of areas on the East coast that are particularly vulnerable to these really extreme wave energy conditions and high water levels. So sea level rise itself is perhaps not as much of a worry as the additional increase in extreme events, events that have been unlikely thus far or less likely to occur each year, but of which the likelihood is increasing, that they will occur in any given year.
Jenny: So I know that you do a lot of work on coastal erosion. So I wanted to ask what actually is coastal erosion and what kind of impact does it have on the areas around where it happens? I'm assuming that, you know, some of those places that you mentioned would be possibly prone to it, so what kind of impact would that have on the communities there?
Iris: So I think the important thing to remember is that erosion as such is a completely natural process, it's what has shaped the surface of our earth for many millennia. And it refers to the removal of material from any one location by natural processes, such as wind, water, ice, glaciers moving across the Alps, all of that can cause erosion. Often you have plants, and weather freeze and thaw periods, that help break down rock material into smaller components, weaken existing pebbles or material into smaller elements, and they can then be transported. We call that process weathering. So the combination of weathering, which produces these fragments of soil or grains that are then able to be picked up by water, ice, or wind, in the process of erosion, that is really what makes our lands change around us. Now, coastal erosion is then when that removal of material that happens at the coast.
So how do you define the coast? I'd say it's anywhere in the area, you know, that waves and tides reach. But again, the erosion could be caused by wind, water, ice, and of course, organisms, for example, humans walking along coastal paths often cause coastal erosion and all of this can play a part here, but it's an entirely natural process. And it's what the coast does. I think that's the important thing. Remember, you've got waves, tides, fine sands, pebbles. You know, stuff has to move. Generally waves are much more capable of eroding than tides and erosion is only one part of the equation of course. At the other end of the conveyor belt, you have deposition. So sometimes the erosion is entirely necessary really because the material that's eroded is then transported elsewhere, where it builds something that we might value greatly. So for example, we have in Dublin Bay, we have North Bull Island, which is just a fantastic place to visit, right?
It's a really, it's a depositional landform. So the silts and clays and sands that build the dunes and the tidal flats and the salt marshes on Bull Island, they are the product of erosion many, many years ago. And sometimes there's long disconnect between where the erosion happens and where the material then deposits. But the important thing is that there is a connection and we value Bull Island and Bull Island is very important in storing carbon for us, for example, in the marshes and as a recreational area and so on. So if you stop erosion, you stop that process. And you've got to be very careful because it might affect somewhere else that you actually value.
Jenny: And so when you're talking about the changes in the weather events, the more extreme weather events, and you're talking about, you know, those storm surges and waves, would that speed up erosion or, you know, could we as humans with our impact on the climate that's happening around us, are there instances where we could be speeding up the natural process of erosion?
Iris: So yes. I mean, we have a long history of interfering with the processes of erosion and transportation of material at the coast. And so, you know, just building revetments, building sea walls, building promenades at the coast, you know, all those kinds of interventions stop the movement of material as a result of waves and tides. And that has had an impact on other areas. There's a classic textbook term that is called the terminal groin effect. It sounds like some awful medical condition, but it's actually, you know, the groins have been constructed on beaches for many decades now as a measure of stopping beach material moving along the beach and down the coast, because you want the beach to be nice and stable and you want it to be wide for people to enjoy. So these groins are kind of shore norma, they're at 90 degrees to the coast, and they're just barriers for the sand to move. But then the last groin in the direction of the natural sand movement will be really important, because on the other side of that, there aren't any more groins. And there is just an area of the coast that doesn't receive the material from the beach that's become protected. And that area then tends to erode more heavily than it would otherwise have done. So you cause this terminal groin effect by protecting one beach and then the adjacent one that would have otherwise benefited from that material becomes eroded more rapidly than it would otherwise have done. And of course you then end up with a sort of sticky outie beach that you've very well protected and the heavily eroded coastline at the side of it. And, you know, these kinds of, sometimes they were perhaps not mistakes. Sometimes they were done in the knowledge that this was going to be the effect, but many times very often they have happened, and then people have been surprised at the rate of erosion that's been caused by the intervention.
Jenny: So to kind of circle around when we're talking about, you know, the flooding and the heavy rainfall that we've seen recently, and I know I'm familiar with like in Cork, there's these movements to build sea walls or something along the river and kind of stop these surges happening, and so are there more natural ways that people can work with the environment to protect our infrastructure, protect the landscape in a way that doesn't cause such dramatic effects as you've mentioned there?
Iris: Yeah, I think the important thing to work towards is really that we need to stop living under the illusion that we can fix nature in place. I think that's a really important recognition to kind of start with. Now, it means, of course that, you know, we can't of course not simply step back and let nature do its own thing. But if we start with that as an idealized situation that we want to work towards, then if you a really wide buffer zone in which no permanent infrastructure is located or the lifespan of the infrastructure is very cautiously worked out with the knowledge of how dynamic the coast is between the infrastructure and where the current sea is, you know, we need to really think about where do we put things that we value, where do we put costly infrastructure? Where do we put people who we don't want to be affected by erosion and flooding? And if we allow a buffer between those areas that we develop, and the areas that are naturally dynamic, then actually you have a completely sustainable situation. And we also now have a lot of information that actually allows us to work out exactly how close we could get with people or with infrastructure, because we have all the scientific data that we, you know, part of my research group does this, to work out how stable the natural features are, how likely they are to become eroded, how likely they are to move, and how efficient they are themselves buffering against water flow across them or against waves traveling across them. So there's a lot you can do in shallow water to reduce the rise of water levels during a storm, and to reduce the height of waves during the storm, but you need shallow water and you need space.
Now, if you're talking about Cork, for example, the need to construct better concrete defenses or whatever, that is something we just, we might have to do because in some areas mistakes have already been made, you know, deliberately or not deliberately, but we've just ended up in a situation where a lot of infrastructure and people are in places where really they shouldn't be. You can't simply say we're going to move them all somewhere else. People's livelihoods are there and people are, you know, they are attached to that environment and it's valuable to them and it's valuable to the economy. So I think over, we just have to be really careful as to what we do in what location. And we have to have plans that go over different timescales. If you have to put a concrete wall in somewhere, because there's simply no other option, I think you should only do that knowing that there needs to be a 50 or a hundred year timescale plan that works towards actually removing the vulnerable assets and the vulnerable population over a much longer timescale.
Jenny: What I've got from this is that climate is kind of dynamic and it does change over time. We've maybe sped it up in a really bad way. Is it too late to prevent catastrophic climate change?
Iris: Yeah, we have, we have already affected the climate. So the question now is can we buffer the impact and can we slow down the process? And I think by the same logic that we just talked about earlier in terms of the fact that we know that CO2 emissions have been one of the main culprits, and then the methane from agriculture and from industry on top of that, the easiest thing we can do is to reduce, however much we can, our CO2 emissions and our methane emissions. And you just simply reverse - we know that the effects, we know what the effect will be because we know what the effect of CO2 in the atmosphere is. If we can reduce the concentrations as quickly as possible, then we will have an effect. It will reduce the impact of climate change.
And we know we can do it in the short term because we've all done it in the last months. We've all done it when we went into lockdown, we've seen the global atmospheric CO2 emissions drop. It was a fascinating time, but you can see that global action - in this case, you know, it was unintended, it was as part of the pandemic - but global action can have an impact on the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. It's a really, actually a really simple thing in theory to do. In practice, it's obviously horrendously difficult because the pandemic was a, you know, an emergency situation. You know, of course there are now people who argue climate, that the climate situation is as important and perhaps also an emergency, but it needs to be a sustainable thing that we do here too. It needs to make sure that, you know, we continue towards creating a livable planet for all of us on it. And it needs to be equitable of course, but it does need to be, you know, it does need to be done if we want to limit the impacts of climate change, which is not, you know, it's not going to slow down and we're already locked into the lagged effects as a result of the already occurred increase in CO2 emissions that has already happened.
Jenny: We finish up each episode by asking our experts the same question. And that is what is your favorite thing about being a researcher?
Iris: Good question. So I think on a day to day basis it's the variety of what I do. It's, really, the excitement that you get up every day and you have something different, like this podcast interview today, you know, I'm not sure when I'm going to do the same kind of thing again. So there's always new things that happen every day that you have to engage with, that you have to think about and you engage your brain with, and that's really exciting and really interesting. It's never boring. And secondly, I think it's just the fact that being a researcher, you work as part of a team of people and particularly, you know, in my case, I work with colleagues in the Department of Geography and then the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity, and of course, wider afield all across the world.
And we're all working for a common goal, for a better future, as we all see that it's possible. And that's really what we're all working towards is a better understanding of the science, the natural science, the social science, you know, whether our ambition is to understand the housing crisis in Dublin or how we can design smarter and more sustainable transport systems, solve issues around access and distribution to food, or other resources, or mitigate the impact of climate change. You know, all of these things, the colleagues around me in the geography department do. And we're all there to do the best to share our knowledge then to those who want to know, to the students who come to us to study geography, to the colleagues elsewhere in Ireland and around the world and so on. And ultimately we all want to make a difference. And that's really kind of energizing to do on a day to day basis.
My thanks to Iris for talking to me today! As always you can find a full transcript of this episode at tcd.ie/research/researchmatters. You’ll also find links to more information about some of the things Iris talked about in our chat.
Remember to send us your suggestions for episodes any time! Tell us what you want to know!
Tim Nerney composed our music and Conor Reid at The Podcast Studios helps me with the production side of things.
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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.