Esme Flegg

University of Southampton

PhD researcher


Research summary

“The UK’s reliance on ports and the delicate interplay between infrastructure and weather captivates me, as 95% of goods by weight enter the country by sea, meaning that our trade and quality of life is dependent on the maritime environment. Ports are vulnerable to disruptive extreme weather events and this will potentially be both more severe and frequent with climate change (e.g. storms). The operational success of ports will be threatened if managing these risks through engineering or other responses are not addressed. Perceptions of adaptation responsibility is a key issue, as government considers ports to be able to adapt independently, whereas many ports are awaiting government guidance. My research has highlighted miscommunication between the port sector and government which could have severe negative implications for ports by hindering effective and timely adaptation, unless regulations are changed. The financial and societal implications of poor timing or ineffectual adaptations could be damaging for ports. A key outcome of my research is to promote and guide appropriate and effective adaptation (in terms of engineering, planning and behaviour) decisions in the port sector. The implications of this guidance are extensive, promoting the UK’s port sector as a global leader in climate change adaptation by defending its operations, engineering and infrastructure; whilst providing a template for effective adaptation practice.”


Duration of your PhD

Thesis's Supervisor
Sally Brown


My Thesis' Abstract
Ports act as global transport hubs; for example, in the UK alone 95% of goods enter or leave the country by sea (Department for Transport, 2012). Many ports, such as those located in estuarine or deltaic regions, have operations that are, or will, be risk from climate change. The devastating impacts, both economically and socially, of extreme weather events has been highlighted in recent years; such as by the damage sustained in New Orleans in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.
The uniqueness of each port environment adds interest to this PhD research topic; as a blanket solution for adaptation of port environments cannot be applied on a global, or even national, scale. Impacts on ports resulting from climate change are predicted to occur globally with the greatest vulnerability over the next 60-70 years expected, in terms of exposed population and assets, to occur within Asia (Hanson et al., 2011).
Three main stages to this study have been identified:

  • Review existing literature and data to investigate port operations and potential negative climate impacts
  • Develop a quantitative methodology to determine the current regulatory and economic costs posed by extreme weather events, and what this will mean in the future
  • Investigate available adaptation options, in the context of social and climatic change, on both regional and global scales

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