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Climate change is predicted to pose a growing threat to people around the world, particularly in low-lying coastal zones that are vulnerable to sea-level rise and changes in extreme events. As people become increasingly exposed to the risks, understanding their beliefs and responses becomes ever more important. Research shows that experts and lay publics often diverge in their assessment of risks. Understanding these different perceptions can help in developing more constructive forms of communication and participatory decision-making. Although research has identified differences in lay and expert understandings of climate change, we do not yet know how these groups understand sea-level change.
My PhD topic is entitled ‘Public responses to the risks of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary’. I am using a mental models approach to compare how experts and members of the public understand and respond to the risks of future sea-level change on the Severn Estuary. This will enable the identification of misunderstandings and knowledge gaps, and facilitate the development of guidelines for public engagement and risk communication in the Estuary.