Settlements and Infrastructure

Image: Juho TastulaThe Australian Climate Change Adaptation Research Network for Settlements and Infrastructure (ACCARNSI) is hosted by the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

ACCARNSI is one of four Adaptation Research Networks hosted by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF), Griffith University as part of their Phase 2 program funded by the Australian Federal Government.

ACCARNSI will continue to initiate and Michal Ufniakdevelop effective strategies to respond to climate change through mitigation, adaptation and implementation. Having built a brand base and reputation that is now well known and acknowledged Australia wide, ACCARNSI will bring together researchers and stakeholders with an interest in climate change adaptation for coastal settlements, public and private infrastructure, the built environment and urban and regional planning. Research direction will assist government, the private sector and vulnerable regions and communities to make informed decisions on how best to educate, plan and manage adaptation for the risks of climate change on coastal settlements, urban and regional built environments and infrastructure.


The Australian Climate Change Adaptation Research Network for Settlements and Infrastructure (ACCARNSI) continued to consolidate its position in 2014 with the negotiation of key funding as one of four research networks confirmed by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) as part of their Phase 2 operations.

ACCARNSI’s new 2 ½ year contract with NCCARF will start in 2015 and will focus on climate change adaptation for settlements and infrastructure with host institution UNSW and partner universities, Griffith University, the University of South Australia and the University of Canberra each bringing access to researcher expertise and capabilities in coastal management, planning and adaptation of infrastructure, and risk assessment and adaptation, in both urban and regional contexts.

ACCARNSI will support NCCARF in matters related specifically to coastal settlements and infrastructure including the development of a National Coastal Adaptation Framework, the synthesis and distribution of adaptation knowledge and stakeholder engagement.

2014 industry activities included training support for the ‘Learning to Adapt’ master-class, EIANZ’s innovative and certified climate change adaptation professional development program.

ACCARNSI Convenor Associate Professor Ron Cox continued to be a sought after speaker at local and international conferences, congresses and meetings in 2014 with an invitation to participate in the ‘Working with Nature’ Initiative and a paper on ‘Climate Change Risk Assessment for Ports in the Pacific’ at the International PIANC Congress in San Francisco in June followed by the International Conference on Coastal Engineering (ICCE) in Seoul authoring and presenting papers on coastal adaptation, beach nourishment and climate change implications for coastal design storms in eastern Australia.  In October, Ron presented at an international workshop to over 200 participants from across the Philippines on the importance of Climate Change to Ports and Coastal Infrastructure.

Closer to home, papers were authored and presented by Ron and Bill Peirson, at the NCCARF Conference in October on extreme water levels, adaptation of sea walls and the relative importance of wave climate change and sea level rise.   Ron also presented a summary of Coastal Processes and Responses research being undertaken for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH)  Climate Adaptation Research Hub (CARH) .  In Mandurah Western Australia, Ron chaired sessions at the Australian Coast to Coast Conference as well as organising and presenting a one-day  training workshop for local and state government participants in the application of the Engineers Australia Climate Change Guidelines for Coasts, Sustainability and Adaptation.  In November, Ron  gave the keynote address at the Engineers Australia Practical Responses to Climate Change Conference on ‘The Challenges of Climate Change Adaptation in Coastal Environments’.

ACCARNSI in partnership with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) is undertaking a 3 year research program as the Coastal Processes and Responses Node funded under the CARH by NSW OEH.  Specific research is being undertaken in regard to beach erosion and recovery, effective application of beach nourishment and upgrading sea walls as means of adaptation to climate change.  Targeted research is also being undertaken on the physical and environmental/ecological aspects of climate change within estuaries.

2015 promises to further strengthen ACCARNSI’s climate change adaptation research base with the first in a series of themed Early Career Researcher Forums, review of the National Adaptation Research Plan and Stakeholder Panel workshops.


In a country with more than 10,000 sandy beaches, and where more than 80 per cent of the population lives within 100 km of the ocean, coastal erosion poses a considerable threat to Australian property and infrastructure.

“It’s a first order challenge to our society and the natural environment in Australia, as it is internationally,” says Associate Professor Ian Turner from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s Water Research Laboratory (WRL).

Climate change is escalating the threat to new levels, but contrary to some popular views, it’s not necessarily sea level rise that’s the biggest concern over the short-term.

“For the coming decades, relatively subtle changes in the number of storms that may occur per year, as well as changes in the size and direction of waves, could have a much larger impact on causing coastal erosion than sea level rise during the same period,” says Turner.

Currently it’s unknown how beaches will respond to more variable wave climates and storm frequency. “Will they adapt and be fine?” asks Turner. “Or is there some tipping point where we start to see dramatic coastal erosion?”

If the latter materialises, he says the economic value of existing built assets in coastal communities that are at risk is probably immeasurable.

A report published in 2011 by the former Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency estimated that more than $226 billion of industrial, commercial and residential property, as well as roads, railways and other infrastructure, would face risks of inundation and erosion hazards if sea levels rose 1.1 metres. It’s a level that climate scientists have plotted as a high-end scenario by 2100, but haven’t ruled out. 

And no less significant than the costs to the built environment, says Turner, are the much harder to quantify cultural and economic value of beaches, estuaries, marine parks and coastal ecosystems, which are all impacted by erosion.  

Turner is a member of a team of coastal engineers at Water Research Laboratory interested in the role climate change is playing in the reshaping of Australian beaches and coastlines around the world.

Along with colleague Dr Kristen Splinter, he has developed a more reliable modelling tool – called ShoreFor – that can predict the rapid rate at which sand is carried off beaches during storms. Importantly, this tool can also predict the rate at which sand is restored, more slowly, by smaller waves between storms – a lesser known process known as “beach recovery”.

Making the models work requires estimates of future wave climates – which account for clusters of storms and larger, more directionally-diverse waves – and actual observations from beaches. 

UNSW is part of an international network that uses cameras to monitor beaches around the world.  WRL is collecting valuable data from a number of sites in NSW and Queensland including Narrabeen-Collaroy Beach in northern Sydney to extend a monitoring program at the site that has been running for 40 years.

Recently, a partnership with the UNSW School of Aviation has allowed aerial surveys of the beach immediately before and after storm events, augmenting data from quad bike surveys, as well as camera and rooftop laser scans. All of this information has been used to test the modelling tool.

If these models can be applied more confidently, says Turner, they can better inform the assessment and design of coastal defences, such as breakwaters and seawalls or beach nourishment and the enhancement of natural sand buffers.  

Turner’s work on coastal erosion and beach recovery is closely related  to other important projects in coastal engineering adaptation for climate change  being undertaken by the School’s Associate Professors Ron Cox (Convenor Australian Climate Change Adaptation Research Network for Settlements and Infrastructure ACCARNSI) and Bill Peirson (Director Water Research Laboratory).  With 3 years of funding provided by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage under the Climate Adaptation Research Hub and support from the US Army Corps of Engineers, Cox leads research to optimise beach nourishment and adaptation of seawalls whilst Peirson is investigating the impacts of climate change on estuaries.

This multidisciplinary network of researchers is investigating ways to manage the risks posed by climate change, in order to help governments and communities develop suitable adaptation strategies.

For more information on this and other Coastal CARH projects contact Associate Professor Ron Cox at



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