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Olivia Shears

PhD Candidate at Department of Geography and Jesus College Cambridge

Researching the resistance of salt marshes in the UK to erosion. Focusing on small scale linkages between physical factors (hydrodynamic, sediment) and biological factors (vegetation, bioturbation) and their influence on stability at marsh margins in both natural and managed realignment salt marshes.



  • October 2018 – PhD Candidate in Geography. Biophysical linkages in coastal wetland restoration. NERC funded through Cambridge ESS DTP and CASE Partnership with British Geological Survey.
  • December 2017 – October 2018 Research Assistant, Cambridge Coastal Research Unit for the Global Alliance Project: Opportunities for ecological adaptation to flood hazards in major global cities: London, Singapore and San Francisco.
  • 2016-2017 MPhil in Geography, University of Cambridge. Thesis title: Decision support in uncertainty in dynamic coastal environments. Awarded with no corrections.
  • 2013-2016 BA in Geography, University of Cambridge. Part II Dissertation title: Tephra deposition, changing vegetation structure and edge effects in Iceland


  • MPhil in Geography, University of Cambridge.
  • BA in Geography, University of Cambridge


  • William Vaughan Lewis Prize (2016)


My PhD explores the resistance of salt marsh sediments to erosion, specifically lateral erosion (i.e. retreat) at the marsh edge. I am particularly interested in the role of the interlinkages between biological and physical factors in governing the erosion resistance of marsh edges. My project investigates salt marshes in varying settings in the UK – including managed realignment sites. These are restored salt marshes created through de-embankment.

Using a combination of field experiments, in situ field measurements, laboratory analysis and flume experiments, my PhD project aims to ‘zoom in’ on the centimetre scale processes which impact the ability of a salt marsh to resist erosion. With coastal management increasingly looking towards a more holistic approach and incorporating coastal ecosystems in defences, it is critical to understand the future stability of these systems.

My MPhil thesis looked at the current use of and opportunities for decision support systems – in particular ecosystem services assessments – at the coast.


  • McIvor, A., Möller, I., Spencer, T., and Shears, O. (2017) Coastal Protection Services. Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA). Version 2.0 Cambridge, UK
  • Cutler, N.A., Shears O.M., Streeter, R.T., and Dugmore A.J. (2016.) Impact of small-scale vegetation structure on tephra layer preservation. Scientific Reports, 6(1), p.37260. Available at:

Conference presentations

  • Shears, O.M, Möller, I., Spencer, T., Royse, K. (2019). Zooming in on erosion at marsh edges: do plants matter? Poster presentation at CEEDA 2017 conference, Cambridge. April 2017.


  • Part 1A Supervisions: Life on Earth; Oceans and Coasts
  • Laboratory demonstrating: Part IA