Neil Brannigan

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Research Statement

I am currently researching the resilience and adaptation of muddy flooding mitigation to climate change as part of a PhD scholarship, funded by the Department of the Economy.

Muddy floods are characterised by runoff generated from bare or partially vegetated agricultural fields carrying large quantities of soil as suspended sediment or bedload that causes downslope damage to property, roads, and freshwater systems. The total annual damage cost of muddy flooding to private householders in Flanders, Belgium, was previously estimated to be between €55 million and €165 million, while damages to public infrastructure were estimated to be similar. A pilot project in the Melsterbeek catchment in Flanders confirmed that mitigation measures – such as conservation tillage, grass buffer strips, grassed waterways, earth dams and retention ponds - were successful in reducing the impact of muddy flooding events and are cost-effective in three years under current climatic conditions. However, with rainfall totals and the frequency of high-intensity rainfall events expected to increase, mitigation measures are unlikely to remain effective to manage muddy flooding under a changing climate. Muddy flooding events were recently simulated to increase in magnitude and frequency under 1.5°C and 2°C warming, while an earlier and longer muddy flooding season was also projected (Mullan et al., 2016 & 2019). Current mitigation measures must be modified to account for the impacts of climate changes. This research aims to examine how existing mitigation measures can be adapted to become more resilient to future climate change.

A selection of appropriate soil erosion models will be employed to develop quantitative baseline projections of muddy flooding diagnostics (runoff, soil loss, deposition, and sediment yield) for a representative sub-catchment within the Melsterbeek catchment, while daily site-specific future climate change scenarios (temperature and precipitation) will be developed for the catchment using downscaling techniques based on multiple climate scenarios and driven by multiple emissions scenarios. A range of future muddy flooding scenarios will be generated by perturbing the baseline modelling with the future climate scenarios. A list of revised mitigation measures will then be developed and stress-tested under the future climate scenarios and these measures will then be ranked by their resilience to future climate change and practicability. The findings will be disseminated to not only help inform policy development and adaptation in Flanders, but also to influence muddy flooding mitigation planning elsewhere in the European loess belt.

Research Interests

Soil Erosion and Muddy Flooding; Climate Scenario Development and Impacts Modelling; Resilience of Environmental Management Strategies to Climate Change; GIS.


  • BSc Geography, 2014 - 2017 @ Queen's University Belfast;

  • MSc Environmental Engineering, 2017- 2018 @ Queen's University Belfast;

  • Geography PhD, 2018 - Present @ Queen's University Belfast.


Teaching Assistant Modules, BSc Geography:

  • GGY1009: Physical Geography: Earth, Wind and Water;

  • GGY2002: Landscape and Geographical Information Systems;

  • GGY3060: Advanced Geographical Information Systems;
  • GGY3089: Coastal Environments;

  • GGY3091: Sustaining the Biosphere.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


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