Erosion hazards in river catchments: How resilient is critical infrastructure to climate change?

  • Supervisors: Dr James Cooper, University of Liverpool
    Prof Andy Plater, University of Liverpool

  • External Supervisors:

  • Contact:

    Dr James Cooper, University of Liverpool,

  • CASE Partner:

Application deadline: 10 January 2020


Society has entered a new era of climate change where the environmental consequences of warming are being experienced directly. Arguably the most severe impacts of climate change on critical infrastructure will be an increase in the frequency and severity of storms, leading to more extreme erosion events. The impacts of erosion hazards are of strategic national importance because they are wide ranging, costly and critical to the vulnerability of assets. In the UK these hazards cause £336M a year in extra flood damage1, are a considerable source of water pollution totalling costs of £238M a year2, and increase the costs of water treatment and maintenance of drainage networks by £132M a year3. They cause considerable damage to infrastructure such as bridges, flood defences and electricity pylons, and account for 25% of valid subsidence insurance claims. 

Whilst major advances have been made in the prediction of flood risk, vulnerability and resilience of critical infrastructure to flooding, no such major advance has occurred for erosion hazards in catchments. There has been no attempt to: (1) quantity the uncertainty in the risk posed by these hazards; (2) assess the impact of erosion hazards on critical infrastructure; or (3) evaluate the vulnerability and resilience of these assets to differing storm regimes. Thus decision makers currently face questions about mitigation strategies that are very difficult to answer: (1) Where to act to make an asset more resilient? (2) When action is required: now or can investment be postponed? This project aims to provide answers to these questions.

Project Summary:

This project aims to provide new predictive capability for the changing impacts of erosion on critical infrastructure in river catchments and their resilience to a warming climate. A state-of-the-art modelling framework and a suite of software tools will be utilised to provide a probabilistic assessment, communication and mitigation of erosion risk. For a more holistic and integrated assessment of the scale and consequences of erosion, a set of methods, metrics, and tools will be incorporated into the modelling framework4 to assess erosion impact potential beyond direct physical impacts. This approach is required because with expected increased exposure of key assets to erosion, the potential for economic impacts cannot be ignored. Not only is it vital to evaluate and benchmark the conditions that lead to adverse erosion impacts and loss, it is equally important to provide a set of metrics to stakeholders for priority setting and decision making. These major new advances in erosion risk assessment will be achieved by meeting the following objectives:

1. Quantify the risks posed by inland erosion hazards in an uncertain changing climate, and their economic impacts on critical infrastructure.

2. Estimate the vulnerability of these assets and identify which require investment to ensure they stay resilient to extreme storm events in the future.

3. Enhance the decision-making capabilities of stakeholders through the development of a decision-support tool5,6.


1 EA. Strategy Report (2002).

2 Jacobs. Report No. SFS0601 (2008).

3 Defra. Report Number CTE0946 (2010).

4 Coulthard, T.J. et al. Earth Surf. Proc. Land. 38, 1897-1906 (2013).

5 Brown, J.M. et al. Ocean Coast. Manage. 163, 101-112 (2018).

6 Knight, P.J. et al. Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. 15, 1457-1471 (2015).

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