Sir Joseph Swan Centre for Energy Research

Staff Profile

Professor Richard Dawson

Professor of Earth Systems Engineering, Director of Research & Innovation



I believe engineers have a crucial role to play in developing adaptation solutions to ensure our infrastructure and cities are resilient and sustainable in the face of intensifying global change. 

I was a classically trained civil engineer but soon recognised that the codes and historical methods that have enabled so much in the past are not always suitable in this rapidly changing world because they often fail to consider the wider interactions between engineering systems and altering environmental and socio-economic conditions.

A distinctive feature of my work has been the application of engineering principles to broad scale modelling and analysis - recognition that engineering systems have a much wider influence than their physical form and need to be considered within their broader environmental and social context. This engineering philosophy has become known as Earth Systems Engineering.

My research interests, described in more detail in the 'Research' tab, are broad but with the common thread of Earth Systems Engineering. My work is necessarily a cross-disciplinary endeavour, involving collaboration with leading researchers, consultants and government agencies nationally and internationally. 

Prior to my current role I was lead researcher in the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research Cities Programme (that I now co-ordinate) and responsible for delivering the Urban Integrated Assessment Facility. Prior to this I was appointed as a researcher at Newcastle University in 2004, having previously worked at Bristol University where I co-developed the National Flood Risk Assessment methodology that was subsequently used in the Office of Science and Technology's Foresight: Future Flooding study.

In February 2019 I was appointed to the Adaptation Committee of the UK Government's Committee on Climate Change.

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Roles and Responsibilities

Director of Research & Innovation in the School of Engineering (2020-present)
Adaptation Committee member of the Committee on Climate Change
Water Group Head (2017-2020)
Director for the Centre for Earth Systems Engineering Research (2011-2018)
Associate Director of the Institute for Sustainability (2014-2017)
Member of the EPSRC Peer Review College
Associate Deputy Editor, Climatic Change
Cities & Coasts theme co-ordinator, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research 
Editorial board, ICE Journal Infrastructure Asset Management
Editorial board, Journal of Flood Risk Management


MEng, Civil Engineering with French (University of Bristol)
PhD, Performance based management of flood defence systems (University of Bristol)
CEng, Chartered Engineer
FICE, Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers

Previous Positions

Research Associate (University of Bristol)

Honours and Awards

· Jose Marie Sarriegi award (2019)
· EPSRC Research Fellowship (2010-2015)
· Robert Stephenson Award, Northeast Region of the Institution of Civil Engineers (2009)
· Robert Alfred Carr Prize, Institution of Civil Engineers (2004)
· Summer Research Fellow, Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (2003)
· Student Paper Prize, International Association of Hydraulic Researchers (1999)





Research Interests

My main research interests are:
· Engineering urban areas for sustainability
· Climate impacts analysis
· Adaptation (particularly of civil infrastructure) to a changing climate
· Flood risk assessment
· Modelling of coupled human/natural/engineering systems
· Infrastructure management

The aim of my EPSRC Fellowship is to develop and demonstrate a city-scale understanding of the inter-relationships between global change, resource consumption, land use and infrastructure systems and subsequently use this understanding to design and adapt cities so that they require fewer resources, are more resilient to climate change and ultimately more sustainable.

Other Expertise

In pursuit of supporting the specific application areas above, I have developed and gained experience in the application of more generic methods:
· Systems analysis
· Risk, uncertainty and decision-making analysis
· Social simulation: eg. urban landuse change and agent-based modelling
· Numerical modelling of physical phenomena (eg. hydrodynamic models)
· Decision-support tools

Esteem Indicators

· Member of the EPSRC Peer Review College
· Visiting researcher: Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto University, Japan.
· Institution of Civil Engineers Robert Stephenson Award for contribution to the “Northeast Climate Change Adaptation Study” (2009) 
· Institution of Civil Engineers Robert Alfred Carr Prize for “A methodology for national-scale flood risk assessment” (2004) 
· International Association of Hydraulic Research Young Scientists Paper Prize for “Risk based approach to beach nourishment” (1999)
· Editorial board for Springer Future City book series.
· Editorial board for Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers: Civil Engineering
· Invited speaker at the UN IPCC Expert meeting on 'Human settlements and Infrastructure', March 2011
· Invited speaker at the World City Water Forum
· Speaker at the 13th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
· Cited 5 times in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
· Theme leader for GCP conference on 'Connecting Development Decisions at Urban and Regional levels to Global Issues', Mexico 2006.
· Invited reviewer for numerous academic journals (including: Risk Analysis; Water and the Environment; Global Environmental Change etc.), Research Council proposals and the United States North East Climate Impacts Assessment.
· Co-organiser with British Council of water and health climate impacts and media communication workshop (2007).
· Invited speaker at many national and international institutes including: The Met Office, The Environment Agency, Durban Municipal Authority (South Africa), Dutch National Climate Change Programme (Amsterdam), National Institute for Environmental Studies (Japan), Asian Institute for Technology (Thailand), International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Austria) etc.


UKRI GCRF Water Security & Sustainable Development Hub. PI: £17.7M.
EPSRC(EP/H003630/1): Career Acceleration Fellowship - Resource implications of adaptation of infrastructure to global change. P-I: £818k.
EPSRC(EP/I035781/1): RESNET: Resilient Electricity Networks for Great Britain. Co-I: £1.4m (£415k at Newcastle).
EPSRC (EP/I005943/1): Resilient Futures: Resilient infrastructure from an engineering and social perspective. Co-I: £1,4m (£230k at Newcastle).
EPSRC(EP/G061254/1): ARCADIA: Adaptation and Resilience in Cities: Analysis and Decision making using Integrated Assessment. Co-I: £1.1m (£670k at Newcastle).
EPSRC (EP/G013403/1): Earth Systems Engineering: Sustainable systems engineering for adapting to global change. Co-I: £1,35m.
NERC: Public policy secondment to the Greater London Authority, PI: £2,000.
DEFRA (FD2601): Non-structural flood risk management. P-I: £115k.
Environment Agency (SC060063): Reliability in Flood Incident Management. Co-I: £42k at Newcastle.

In addition to the above research projects I have received funding for consultancy work.

Industrial Relevance

I have worked with a number of government organisations, engineering consultancies and utilities, including: The Greater London Authority; Arup; Halcrow; HR Wallingford; Royal Haskoning; SustaiNE; the Environment Agency and Northumbrian Water.

My current research projects engages with stakeholders: including the Greater London Authority, Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Infrastructure UK, Tees Valley Unlimited, Newcastle City Council, DEFRA, DECC, Transport for London Thames Water and the Environment Agency.


Undergraduate Teaching

Civil Engineering

Postgraduate Teaching

Hydrology and Water Management MSc