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Iris Möller MPhil PhD

Iris Möller MPhil PhD

University Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit

Coastal geomorphologist with a research focus on bio-physical interactions in the intertidal zone, developing nature-based coastal defence solutions, monitoring / predicting long-term coastal morphodynamics and the response of coastal systems to climate change.



  • 1997-1997: Research Scientist / Numerical Modeller, HR Wallingford Ltd
  • 1997-present: Deputy Director, Cambridge Coastal Research Unit
  • 2000-2014: College Lecturer, Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge
  • 2014-2015: Bye-fellow, Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge


  • 1993-1996 University of Cambridge, Department of Geography and Magdalene College PhD 'Wave attenuation over saltmarsh surfaces' (NERC Studentship)
  • 1992-1993 University of Wales, Swansea, Department of Geography MPhil 'Post-fire vegetation recovery in mediterranean-type ecosystems'
  • 1989-1992 Oxford University, BA Hons Geography


Dr Möller has developed a range of research interests that can be divided into three topic areas:

Bio-physical linkages in coastal wetlands and the function of wetlands as a natural coastal defence


Dr Möller's research combines field observations, numerical modelling and scale-modelling approaches to better understand the energy dissipation capacity of saltmarshes. This research is critically relevant to coastal management and, in particular, managed realignment schemes, which require the quantification of the sea-defence value of intertidal environments. Previous research has shown that the sea defence service provided by saltmarshes varies in relation to inundation depths, incident wave conditions, vegetation cover, and meteorological conditions (Möller et al. (2011), Möller et al. (2009), Möller (2006), Möller et al. (2001) and Moeller et al. (1999)). The EU FP7 FAST project (see also main project website) a large-scale wave flume study and the CBESS project are the most recent pieces of research building on this work. The quantification of vegetation surface roughness using digital vegetation canopy imaging techniques has also formed part of this area of work (Möller, 2006) as this is necessary for improved representation of vegetation effects in hydro- and morpho-dynamic models. In collaboration with Greifswald University (Germany), Dr Möller completed a large-scale field monitoring project on the Baltic shore of Germany to determine the wave buffering capacity of reed beds and salt meadows in these micro-tidal, surge-dominated, coastal settings. How such environments function under scenarios of climate and sea level change is critical in determining their future economic and social value. The monitoring of intertidal morphology and sedimentation in relation to biological activity on mudflats with the use of remote sensing techniques has also formed part of Dr Möller's collaborative research in this area (e.g. the Hysens project (Smith et al., 2004)). Aside from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), projects have attracted funding from the Royal Society, the UK Environment Agency and Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the European Union (Hysens and Hydralab IV), as well as joint funding from the Royal Geographical Society and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Long-term (1-10 year) coastal evolution and the impact of extreme events

Over the past few decades, coastal geomorphology has been dominated, on the one hand, by process-based laboratory and modelling studies, and on the other hand, by conceptual models based on empirical relationships between wave and/or sedimentary parameters and coastal morphology. Due to the strongly non-linear behaviour of coastal morphological systems, neither of these approaches have succeeded in improving our ability to predict the long-term (1-10 year) evolution of coastal features at a variety of spatial scales. Although non-linear data-driven numerical modelling techniques have been widely used in other environmental disciplines (e.g. in the modelling of weather patterns or turbulence), they have only recently been used in the study of long-term coastal morphology. Analysis of beach profile data from Duck (Southgate and Möller, 2000) has shown that the long-term behaviour of coastal systems may be self-organised with less input from forcing parameters such as wave or tidal circulation than previously thought.

In this research area, Dr Möller, together with Dr Jonathan Cox, Research Assistant at the CCRU, completed a study of Winterton Ness on the UK East Coast as part of an EU-funded (Fifth Framework) project on 'Human interference with large-scale coastal morphological evolution' (HUMOR) (Kroon et al., 2008). Output from the project includes a computer visualisation of morphological changes of the 'ness' based on 10 years of annual aerial photographs and volumetric estimates of dune / beach erosion / accretion derived from Digital Elevation Models constructed from annual aerial photographs. A new conceptual model of long-term coastal change of the large-scale coastal features (such as tidal inlets, spits and nesses) on the UK East coast has also been developed as part of this project.

More recent work (in 2008) has included the visualisation of morphological change along the Hunstanton to Snettisham coastline using aerial photography spanning a period of more than 15 years and the RISC-KIT EU project on coastal flood risk (see also main project website).

Bridging the gap between coastal science, education, management, and planning

Environmental and social change are creating unprecedented planning and policy challenges for coastal communities. Improving the communication and collaboration between a range of disciplines within the academic community (e.g. environmental science, sociology, psychology, policy, and engineering) as well as between academics and the various 'stakeholders' involved in coastal management and decision-making is key to addressing those challenges. Dr Möller has been actively involved in bridging the disciplines and reaching out beyond academia, e.g. through the organisation of workshops (such as the CoastNET workshop on 'Dealing with Risk and Uncertainty in Coastal Environments'), the production of animations of images that make coastal change over a range of time-scales accessible to the non-specialist (Smith et al., 2000), and as scientific reviewer of the UK Climate Change Committee's 'Managing the Land in a Changing Climate' Report.

More recently, Dr Möller's has contributed to the coastal component of the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) and towards 'Valuing the Contribution which COASTal habitats make to human health and WEllBeing' (CoastWEB). In the past, she has collaborated to help understand how managed realignment has been implemented within a range of EU countries (part of the project "Implementing Managed Retreat as a strategic flood and coastal defence option" funded by EA/DEFRA and in collaboration with Halcrow Ltd and the University of East Anglia) and has helped define 'Suitability criteria for habitat creation' (DEFRA/EA funded) through providing expert advice on physical (hydrodynamic / sedimentary) criteria for selection of sites for habitat creation in the intertidal zone and has been advising on the implementation of the Water Framework Directive in the UK context.

PhD supervision

Supervision of prospective PhD students is broadly restricted to the fields above. The following projects have been advertised for applications with an October 2018 start:

Building with Nature: the role of bio-physical linkages within coastal wetland restoration (Priority project with CASE partner) (2nd supervisor with lead supervisor: Iris Möller)

This project will address bio-physical interactions that control transitions from depositional to erosive process regimes, i.e. when hydrodynamic energy thresholds become exceeded such that hydrodynamic forcing leads to the initiation of erosion of cohesive coastal sediments in and around biological structures, such as salt marsh plants and crab burrows. Following on from a large scale wave exposure experiment to be conducted in the large wave flume facility in Hannover, Germany in the summer of 2018, the project will build on this study through conducting a series of smaller scale flume experiments in the laboratory in Cambridge. The relative importance of sediment characteristics and type of UK salt marsh plant species on the erosion thresholds under a range of tidal flow velocities within a salt-water flume will be investigated and used to improve existing morphodynamic models

Further details:

Mind the gap: exploiting satellite technology for coastal climate change adaptation in the data-poor 'gap' of intertidal zones (Supervisor with Geoff Smith (Spectro Natura) and lead supervisor: Iris Möller)

The possibility of using high frequency monitoring of intertidal coastal areas through the new satellite systems now available offers unprecedented opportunities to gain insights into both the complexity of existing and potential future (managed realignment) intertidal coastal surfaces and their change over a range of time scales. The project aims to develop a remote-sensing based 'INtertidal REsponse Model' (INREM) to understand/simulate coastal dynamics in response to human/climate drivers. This will be achieved by using remote sensing products at high spatial and temporal resolution alongside existing field data to inform the science of biological and physical processes and their interaction within intertidal zones. Results will provide a better understanding of the dynamics of such environments, how they deliver ecosystem services and reduce coastal flood and erosion risk

Further details:


Recent Publications

  • Möller I, Kudella M, Rupprecht F, Spencer T, Paul M, van Wesenbeeck B, Wolters G, Jensen K, Bouma TJ, Miranda-Lange M, Schimmels S (2014) Wave attenuation over coastal salt marshes under storm surge conditions. Nature Geoscience, Vol 7 (Oct 2014). doi:10.1038/NGEO2251
  • Spencer, T., Brooks, S.M., Möller, I., and Evans, B.R. (2014) Where local matters: impacts of a major North Sea storm surge. EoS, 95(30), 29th July 2014. doi:10.1002/2014EO300002
  • Sutherland, W.J., Bogich, T.L., Bradbury, R.B., Clothier, B., Dicks, L.V., Gardner,, T., Jonsson, M., Kapos, V., Lane, S.N., Möller, I., Schroeder, M., Spalding, M., Spencer, T., and White, P.C.L. (2014) Solution scanning as a key policy tool: identifying management interventions to help maintain and enhance regulating ecosystem services. Ecology and Society 19(2): 3. doi:10.5751/ES-06082-190203
  • Doswald, N., Munroe, R., Roe, D., Giuliani, A., Castelli, I., Stephens,J., Möller, I., Spencer, T., Vira, B., and Reid, H. (2014) Effectiveness of ecosystem-based approaches for adaptation: review of the evidence-base. Climate and Development. doi:10.1080/17565529.2013.867247
  • Friess, D.A., Möller, I., Spencer, T., Smith, G.M., Thomson, A.G., Hill, R.A. (2013) Coastal saltmarsh managed realignment drives rapid breach inlet and external creek evolution, Freiston Shore (UK). Geomorphology. (in press, corrected proof)
  • Spalding M.D., McIvor A.L., Beck M.W., Koch E.W., Möller I., Reed D.J., Rubinoff P., Spencer T., Tolhurst T.J., Wamsley T.V., van Wesenbeeck B.K., Wolanski E., Woodroffe C.D. (2013) Coastal ecosystems: a critical element of risk reduction. Conservation Letters 00, 1-9
  • Spencer T., and Möller I. (2013) Mangrove Systems. In: John F. Shroder (Editor-in-chief), Sherman, D.J. (Volume Editor). Treatise on Geomorphology, Vol 10, Coastal Geomorphology, San Diego: Academic Press; 2013. p. 360-391.
  • LaCambra, C., Friess, D.A., Spencer, T., and Möller, I. (2013) Bioshields: Mangrove ecosystems as resilient natural coastal defences. In: Renaud, Sudmeier-Rieux, and Estrella (eds), The role of ecosystems in disaster risk reduction. United Nations University Press, 2013, ISBN 978-92-808-1221-3. Chapter 4, p82-108
  • McIvor, A.L., Möller, I., Spencer, T. and Spalding. M. (2012) Reduction of wind and swell waves by mangroves. Natural Coastal Protection Series: Report 1. Cambridge Coastal Research Unit Working Paper 40. Published by The Nature Conservancy and Wetlands International. 27 pages. ISSN 2050-7941. URL:
  • Möller, I. (2012) Bio-physical linkages in coastal wetlands – implications for coastal protection. NCK-days 2012 – Crossing borders in coastal research. Jubilee Conference Proceedings 20th NCK-days (Enschede, 13-16 March 2012, University of Twente, The Netherlands). Eds Kranenburg, W.M., Horstman, E.M., Wijnberg, K.M. ISBN 9789036533423. URL:
  • Spencer, T., Friess, D.A., Möller, I., Brown, S.L., Garbutt, R.A. and French, J.R. (2012). Surface elevation change in natural and re-created intertidal habitats, eastern England, UK, with particular reference to Freiston Shore. Wetlands Ecology and Management 20, 9-33. doi:10.1007/s11273-011-9238-y.
  • Friess, D.A., Spencer, T., Smith, G.M., Möller, I., Brooks, S.M., and Thomson, A.G. (2012). Remote sensing of geomorphological and ecological change in response to saltmarsh managed realignment, The Wash, UK. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation 18, 57–68. doi:10.1016/j.jag.2012.01.016.

Selected publications

  • Möller, I., Mantilla-Contreras, J., Spencer, T., and Hayes, A. (2011). Micro-tidal coastal reed beds: Hydro-morphological insights and observations on wave transformation from the southern Baltic Sea. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, In Press, Corrected Proof. doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2011.01.016
  • Feagin, RA, Irish, J.L., Möller, I, Williams, A.M.,Colon-Rivera,R.J., and Mousavi, M.E. (2010). Short communication: Engineering properties of wetland plants with application to wave attenuation. Coastal Enginering,58(3), 252-255.
  • Möller, I., Lendzion, J., Spencer, T., Hayes, A., and Zerbe, S. (2009) The sea-defence function of micro-tidal temperate coastal wetlands. In: Brebbia, C.A., Benassai, G., and Rodriguez, G.R. (eds) Coastal Processes. WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment, Vol. 126, 51-62. (refereed)
  • Feagin, RA, Lozada-Bernard, SM, Ravens, TM, Möller, I, Yeager, KM, Baird, AH. (2009). Does vegetation prevent wave erosion of salt marsh edges? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 106(25), 10109-10113.
  • Lacambra, C., Spencer, T., Moeller, I. (2008) Tropical coastal ecosystems as coastal defences. In: ProAct Network.The Role of Environmental Management and Eco-Engineering in Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation. ProAct Network / United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. Available at:
  • Lacambra, C., Möller, I., Spencer, T. (2008) The Need for an Ecosystem-Inclusive Vulnerability Index for Coastal Areas in Colombia. In: Bohle H-G., Warner, K. (Eds.), Megacities: Resilience and Social Vulnerability. SOURCE (Publication Series of the United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS)), 10, 82-108.
  • Kroon, A., Larson, M., Möller, I., Yokoki, H., Rozynski, G., Cox, J., Larroude, P. (2008) Statistical analysis of coastal morphological data sets over seasonal to decadal time scales. Coastal Engineering. (in press: doi:10.1016/j.coastaleng.2007.11.006)
  • Brown, J.D., Spencer, T., Möller, I. (2007) Modelling storm surge flooding of an urban area with particular reference to modelling uncertainties: a case study of Canvey Island, UK. Water Resources Research, 43, doi:10.1029/2005WR004597. 1-22.
  • Möller, I. (2006) Quantifying saltmarsh vegetation and its effect on wave height dissipation: results from a UK East coast saltmarsh. Journal of Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Sciences, 69(3-4), 337-351.
  • Wolters, M., Bakker, J.P., Bertness, M.D., Jefferies, L., and Möller, I. (2005) Saltmarsh erosion and restoration in south-east England: squeezing the evidence requires realignment. Journal of Applied Ecology, 42, 844-851.
  • Möller, I. and Spencer, T. (2003) 'Wave transformations over mudflat and saltmarsh surfaces on the UK East coast - Implications for marsh evolution'. Proceedings of the International Conference on Coastal Sediments '03, Florida, USA.
  • Smith, G.M., Thomson, A.G., Möller, I. and Kromkamp, J.C. (2004) Using Hyperspectral Imaging for the Assessment of Mudflat Surface Stability. Journal of Coastal Research: Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 1165-1175.
  • Elsner, P. H., Smith, G. M., Möller, I. & Spencer, T. (2003) Multi-temporal airborne imaging spectroscopy - A novel approach for monitoring intertidal sediment dynamics. Abstracts Volume, Coastal Sediments 2003 - Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries, Clearwater Beach, Florida, USA, May 18-23, 484-485.
  • Möller, I. and Spencer, T. (2002) Wave dissipation over macro-tidal saltmarshes: Effects of marsh edge typology and vegetation change. Journal of Coastal Research SI36, 506-521.
  • Cox, J., and Möller, I. (2002) 'Report on the morphodynamics of nesses'. EU Framework V project on Human Interaction with Large-Scale Coastal Morphological Evolution (HUMOR) (EVK3-CT2000-00037).
  • Möller, I., Spencer, T., and Rawson, J. (2002) Spatial and temporal variability of wave attenuation over a UK East-coast saltmarsh. Proceedings of the 38th International Conference on Coastal Engineering, Cardiff, July 2002. London: Thomas Telford Publishing, 362.
  • Möller, I. (2002): 'Land Reclamation from Seas'. In: Munn, T. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change. Volume 3: Douglas, I. (ed.) Causes and consequensces of global environmental change. John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 424-430.
  • Möller, I., Spencer, T., French, J.R., Leggett, D.J., Dixon, M. (2001) 'The sea-defence value of salt marshes - a review in the light of field evidence from North Norfolk'. Journal of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management 15, 109-116.
  • Möller, I., Garbutt, A. & Wolters, M. (2001) Managed realignment of sea defences and the re-creation of saltmarshes in south-east England. In: Green, R.E., Harley, M., Spalding, M. & Zöckler, C. (eds) Impacts of Climate Change on Wildlife. pp 40-43. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Sandy.
  • Smith, G.M., Spencer, T., and Möller, I. (2000) Visualization of Coastal Dynamics: Scolt Head Island, North Norfolk, England. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 50, 137-142.
  • Möller, I, and Southgate, H.N. (2000) Fractal properties of beach profile evolution at Duck, North Carolina. Journal of Geophysical Research, 105, C5, 11,489-11,507.
  • Möller, I, Spencer, T., French, J.R., Leggett, D., and Dixon, M. (1999) Wave transformation over salt marshes: A field and numerical modelling study from North Norfolk, England. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 49, 411-426.


  • PhD student supervision
  • MPhil student supervision
  • Geographical Tripos (Undergraduate level lecturing, supervisions, day and residential field-trips)