Reducing risk to coastal infrastructure from extreme flooding and erosion

Dr Tayebah TajalliBakhsh, Ocean Engineer


The science around climate change suggests rising sea levels are putting coastal zone infrastructure, and the communities that live in and around them, at higher risk from extreme flooding and erosion. Tayebeh is a Ph.D. Ocean engineering. She is part of the RPS Ocean Science team in Rhode Island, and an expert in modelling Tsunami waves. We find out what motivates her focus to gaining a better understanding of geo-hazard impacts to inform the building of resilient coastal communities.

QHow would you explain your job to people?

I advise clients on the environmental conditions, specifically the extreme conditions that might affect their community, people and assets. For every client and project, I do my best to offer the best technical approach and use cutting-edge scientific findings. I also lead a team of ocean engineers and scientists that are implementing state-of-the-art models for offshore and coastal modeling studies.

QHow is climate change impacting coastal areas?

Climate change is affecting and intensifying extreme weather and natural disasters. When the frequency and the severity of storms increase, the risk to offshore and onshore infrastructure also increases. About 40% of the world population, ~2.4 billion people, currently live within 100km of the coast. Urbanisation also results in more coastal infrastructure, which impacts the environment and coastal areas.

QWhat motivated you to study coastal hazards and tsunamis specifically?

Working on research that mattered! The first time I saw the news reporting the devastation caused by a tsunami from the Indian Ocean in 2004 with more than 200,000 lives tragically lost I thought, I want my work to have an impact in saving people’s lives.

QWhy is understanding tsunamis important?

Tsunami waves can travel across the ocean at the speed of a jet and can form a series of waves tens of meters high onto land! Understanding the behaviour of these phenomena more accurately and deeply will save lives, minimise property loss and/or damage and help us to build resilient coastal infrastructure in the future.

QWhat are you working on now?

My focus is on coastal hazards and geohazards; studying coastal flooding from sea level rise and storm surge, and geohazards facing offshore infrastructure (like offshore wind turbines) resulting from earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and storms. Understanding environmental conditions that are impacting us has always been fascinating to me!

QDo you have any advice for someone who wants to pursue a career in your profession?

I love physics and I like implementing it. Physics is the science of nature, and every day at my work I get to use and apply it. Be curious and try to find the answers to your curious mind. Stay connected with your interest and don’t forget why you've chosen this path.

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