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Dr Sien Van Der Plank

Dr Sien Van Der Plank

Postdoctoral Research Fellow



Climate change is driving an increasing frequency and severity of hazard events experienced by coastal communities. In recent years, significant progress has been made in addressing the social, environmental and economic vulnerabilities of the coastal zone to hazard such as erosion, flooding and cyclones, but climate change brings a speed and intensity of change not previously experienced. I work across disciplines to explore how coastal communities across local to national scales manage contemporary coastal hazards and adapt to future changes. Broadly my research interests cover:

  • Household perceptions, motivations and adaptation processes to environmental change;
  • Risk attitudes and behaviours to the natural environment in relation to perceived, expected and experienced social and physical changes;
  • Practice and expectations of stakeholder engagement in environmental management;
  • Policy discourses in conservation, hazard and disaster management, and climate change adaptation; and
  • Integrating public engagement throughout the research process and projects.


2021: PhD in Engineering and the Environment, “Managing Coastal Flood Risk in England: An Analysis of Policy, Organisational and Household Perspectives”, University of Southampton

2016: MSc Biodiversity, Conservation and Management, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford

2015: BSc Global Challenges: Liberal Arts and Sciences, Leiden University College The Hague


2021-2022: South Coast DTP ESRC Research Fellow, University of Southampton

2020-2021: Senior Research Assistant GIS and Remote Sensing and Environmental Social Science (SARTRAC project), University of Southampon


Research interests

I am an environmental human geographer with a focus on the policy and practice of household and community adaptation to environmental change. I research questions around who defines environmental features as positive or negative, community and individual perceptions of campaigns to influence their views of the natural environment, and how society can learn and adapt to socio-environmental challenges.

I develop my research around local priorities to tackle global challenges. To this end my research to date has focused on: community engagement with a proposed mine in a rural region of Australia; adaptation to the marine seaweed influxes being experienced in the Caribbean and West Africa and looking at how we can engage young people globally in learning about such environmental changes; and on the policy and practice of coastal flood risk adaptation in England.

My research interests include

  • Multi-scale analysis using mixed methods of coastal flood risk management across policy domains, organisational stakeholders and households.
  • Mixed methods analysis of the form and evolution of stakeholder perceptions toward mining, expected impacts of mining, and experiences of consultation process.
  • Monitoring and mapping the distribution of Sargassum seaweed in the Caribbean and West Africa using remote sensing and GIS.
  • Exploring stakeholders’ understanding of risks and opportunities from Sargassum invasions at a community level, and the regional governance issues.

My focal areas are:

  • Processes of stakeholder engagement in environmental management
  • Policy discourses in conservation and hazard management
  • Risk attitudes and behaviours to the natural environment in relation to perceived, expected and experienced social and physical changes
  • Integrating public engagement throughout the research process and projects

Research projects

Research projects

Sustainable Development and Resilience of UK Coastal Communities (ROCC) 2021 - 2024. I am working on this project as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. This project aims to build knowledge and know-how to enhance the resilience of UK marine resource-users to environmental, regulatory and socio-cultural change, while simultaneously improving their wellbeing and reducing adverse impacts on the marine environment. The research uses present, past and future- looking methodologies. Funded by the UKRI Strategic Priority Funding on Sustainable Management of UK Marine Resources.The research was co-developed with PML, Marine Management Organisation, Devon Martime Forum, Cornwall Rural Community Charity, Cornwall Council's Strategic Historic Environment Team, Sole of Discretion.

Fostering Household Motivation and Capacity for Transformational Adaptation to Coastal Flooding 2021-2022. I led this project in 2021-2022 as a Research Fellow at the University of Southampton. Transformational adaptation to hazards and climate change, in contrast with incremental adaptation, is associated with system-wide change, a focus on the future and long-term change, and the direct questioning of the effectiveness of existing systems (1). Transformational adaptation for coastal threats at the community and household scale remains vaguely characterised and poorly understood. This fellowship analyses the roles of household responsibility, motivation and capacity in fostering transformational adaptation to coastal flooding.

(1) Lonsdale et al., (2015). Transformational adaptation: what it is, why it matters and what is needed. University of Oxford.

SARTRAC 2019-2022. I worked on this project in 2020-2021 as a Senior Research Assistant GIS and Remote Sensing and Environmental Social Sciences at the University of Southampton. SARTRAC identifies new transformational developmental opportunities that build resilience equitably, for the poorest people affected by mass algal blooms of sargassum seaweed in the tropical Atlantic basin. Specifically, the project identifies drivers of sargassum landings, develop monitoring approaches that are transferable across regions within the basin, and identify adaptation opportunities and challenges generated through the management and re-use of the invasive Sargassum seaweed.


Public engagement projects

I have designed and delivered public engagement project across a range of subject areas to diverse audiences, and am always open to new collaborations and partners in this work.

More than Maps workshops, 2020- launched in 2020 for the Festival of Social Sciences, More than Maps has since reached >300 children and adults through its workshops, and has expanded into a collaboration across continents and oceans with partners at the University of Ghana, University of the West Indies, The University of Western Australia, and The University of Sydney. More than Maps is a public engagement initiative, aiming to share replicable and open-access skills in mapping and social science analysis, to empower students and young professionals in research supporting climate change adaptation. The project has received funding from the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences and Public Engagement with Research unit seed funding, as well as support from the British Council and the Australian Government as part of the UK/Australia Season.

Waves of Change: Flooding and Heatwaves in Southampton, November 2021 was a series of lesson plans for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) learners to explore the risks of heatwaves and flooding in Southampton today and under climate change scenarios, using examples and language appropriate to this migrant based target audience. With quizzes, games and creative activities crammed into two hours of adaptation talk, the delivery of these lessons in November 2021 brings adaptation research to life with an audience of refugees and asylum seekers who are more likely than other groups to be inadequately supported by standard adaptation strategies. This work is part of a collaboration with the Clear project in Southampton.

Southampton Coastal, 2017-2019 launched in 2017 with Public Engagement with Research unit seed funding, supported in 2018 with Festival of Doctoral Research funding. This project developed a coastal system exhibit drawing from multiple disciplines, ranging from archaeology to engineering, to highlight the difficulties faced with life at the coast. Each Southampton Coastal member, PhD students at the University of Southampton, designed an exhibit including games, questionnaires and interactive activities that fit within the central coastal system represented. Southampton Coastal reached hundreds of children and adults across social media and a multitude of festivals and events, including BBC Countryfile Live, SOTSEF, Thomas Hardy School Festival, and the Solent Festival of Engineering. Exhibits and materials remain available for use by coastal PhD students at the University of Southampton. Many involved in this project have gone on to design and delivery further public engagement work.

Science outreach, 2017- STEM ambassador, regular at LifeLab Meet the Scientist programme, guest lecture at Geography Festival 2017 at Bedales School, Petersfield.

Bake Your PhD, 2017 for the University of Southampton Festival of Doctoral Research, showcasing PhD research in the form of cake, encouraging collaboration across disciplines and inviting the public to learn about ongoing PhD research.




External Engagement and Impact

External positions

Expert Advisor on public engagement and online training delivery for WUN funded research project: “Building capacity to monitor and manage sargassum seaweed inundations in Western Africa (SARCAP)”


Committee member, UK National Committee for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, co-chaired by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).


Supervision / Group

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