Coastal and waterway engineering

Engineering research into coastal and waterway structures, management and flood defences - both 'hard' (artificial structures) and 'soft' (natural resources). This research area also includes estuarine engineering, reservoir and dam engineering and hydrodynamics.

As this established UK research area plays a role in addressing engineering challenges associated with flooding, we will sustain the UK's capabilities in order to deliver solutions. By the end of the current Delivery Plan period, we aim to have:

  • The community continuing to undertake multidisciplinary research in flooding and coastal erosion - especially research underpinning the development of infrastructure systems that exhibit resilience and can adapt to future challenges (including climate change)
  • The community seeking to develop a holistic approach to water research incorporating flood risk management with water management and bringing in new perspectives from the Digital Economy (Evidence source 1)
  • Continued support and encouragement for work across research disciplines and for collaborative research with other Research Councils, particularly the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). We specifically recognise the importance of whole-catchment management, blue-green cities and the interface of 'natural' and 'engineered' flood management (Evidence source 2)
  • Worked with the community to gain a comprehensive picture of the 'people pipeline' and to understand any developing issues which may require intervention from the relevant stakeholders

Publications on flood risk have doubled in each five-year period from 2000 to 2015, with the UK maintaining its share of these at 12% (second to the US) and UK papers are cited twice as often as the average for all publications.

Publications on the engineering aspects of coastal defence have remained steady in each five-year period from 2000 to 2015; the UK has maintained its share at 30% (world-leading), with UK papers again cited twice as often as the average for all publications. UK researchers publish widely with those from other countries.

In flood risk, the UK has a strong record of multidisciplinary research as exemplified by the Flood Risk Management Research Consortium and its successor network; this has continued into projects funded under a 2012 sandpit that has led to a more integrated approach to water management and, in particular, the Blue-Green Cities research area in which the UK plays a major role. (Evidence source 2,6) In coastal defence, the UK has strong research groups including four of the top ten authors worldwide.

Flooding and coastal erosion remain important and government agencies with responsibility for flood risk management are faced with the difficult challenge of optimising system performance against a background of environmental change and real-term decreases in capital and maintenance budgets. (Evidence source 3,4) The Committee on Climate Change report on Projections of Future Flood Risk in the UK estimates that current costs of flooding are £1.1 billion/year and that this could rise to £2.8 billion/year by 2080. (Evidence source 3,4,5,7)

Offshore wind and marine energy installations are projected to meet up to 30% of UK electricity needs by 2030. Both require an understanding of wave-structure interactions, as evidenced by the European Union’s Streamlining of Ocean Wave Farm Impacts Assessment (SOWFIA) project.

Coastal, Ocean and Sediment Transport (COaST), based at Plymouth University, is an EPSRC-recognised physical modelling facility providing model experimentation with combined waves, currents and wind effects. The UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure & Cities (UKCRIC) will also support some facilities that are relevant to flooding.

There is some concern that there are insufficient early-career researchers in this area and, while EPSRC-registered student numbers have doubled since 2013, there is no Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) dedicated to this area, although there will be some doctoral projects in waterway engineering and flooding at one of the CDTs concerned with water engineering. (Evidence source 1)

Research into both flood risk and coastal defence is highly multidisciplinary, with researchers drawn from communities supported across the Research Councils - particularly NERC and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as well as EPSRC. (Evidence source 7) NERC has a number of relevant investments, including the Flooding from Intense Rainfall and UK Droughts & Water Scarcity programmes, a Highlight Topic on Physical and Biological Dynamic Coastal Processes and Their Role in Coastal Recovery, and long-term research programmes at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, National Oceanography Centre and British Geological Survey - several researchers in these programmes have previous or current support from EPSRC.

This research area is highly relevant to Resilient Nation Outcomes and the following Ambitions in particular: 

R2: Ensuring  a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

Management of flood risk is critical in ensuring a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy.

R5: Build new tools to adapt to and mitigate climate change

Understanding the interaction of waves with coastal structures is important in the design of offshore wind and marine energy installations and this understanding will therefore help to build new tools to mitigate climate change. In addition, the risk of flooding is likely to increase due to climate change and research into managing this will also help to build new adaptation tools.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.


We aim to maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC Support by Research Area in Coastal and Waterway Engineering (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Nick Cooper
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444441