Swansea University to help forecast the future of the UK’s coastline

A new project is being launched that will help forecast what the UK’s coastline will look like in the future, over the next 100 years.

The four-year £2.9m iCoast project is bringing Swansea University together with leading UK universities, research laboratories and consultants, to develop new methods to forecast long-term changes to our coastlines. This work is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and is partnered by the Environment Agency (EA), who will use these methods to improve long-term flood and erosion risk management.

UK coastal areas are at greater risk of flooding and erosion than their landward equivalents and degradation of their geomorphic systems, due to sediment starvation and/or climate change, could greatly increase these risks.

Previously, the ability to analyse and forecast geomorphic changes was limited. However, thanks to improvements in the analysis of coastal and offshore landform behaviour, the iCoast project will look to develop and implement models that can provide a breakthrough in the prediction of coastal behaviour under conditions of change. These behavioural landform models will be capable of coupled application at regional scales to resolve key reactions between climate forcing, sediment supply, morphology and erosion, and flood risk.

These models will be achieved through four work streams:

·         A Systems Modelling Framework that will characterise coastal elements and features and the relationships between them to define what quantitative models are needed to simulate the data;

·         Producing Behavioural Geomorphic Models using observations to find patterns of behaviour between different geomorphic variables that may then be used to predict future coastal systems behaviour

·         Case studies will be undertaken in two contrasting coastal regions (from Lowestoft to Harwich in Suffolk and Liverpool Bay) to evaluate the results from work streams 1 and 2;

·         Pathway to Impact – ensuring that the results and the component models of the research will be promptly and effectively used in strategic coastal assessments and wider coastal science.

Dominic Reeve, Professor of Coastal Engineering at Swansea University, says: “The challenge posed by climate change requires a step change in the way we tackle coastal erosion and flood risk. To battle the forces of Nature is both difficult and expensive. Far more effective is to nudge Nature in the direction we wish to see it go. To do this requires a much better understanding of the processes that lead to changes in our coastline over the periods of decades or more.”

“The iCoast project will synthesise formalised knowledge of coastal systems from across science, geography and engineering disciplines creating a new generation of methods for medium term forecasting, thereby providing practitioners with improved means to develop sustainable solutions for our coastal communities.”

The iCoast project grew out of previous work by the Tyndall Centre’s Coastal Simulator, which assessed how coastal changes physically affect a region and the impacts of flooding and erosion, and the joint Defra/EA Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management R&D programme, which funded the Estuaries Research Programme (ERP) that laid the groundwork for a lot of hybrid coastal morphology modelling ideas and project SC060074 on characterisation and prediction of large-scale, long-term change of coastal geomorphological behaviours.

Professor Javier Bonet, Head of the College of Engineering at Swansea University, says: “I was delighted to hear of the funding success of the iCoast project.  Professor Dominic Reeve has joined Swansea University in October 2011 to develop coastal engineering activity in the College research portfolio, as well as strengthening activity across the broader water and environmental theme”

The iCoast consortium includes Swansea University, University of Southampton, UCL, Oxford University, Manchester University, Cardiff University, HR Wallingford, National Oceanography Centre, British Geological Survey, Haskoning and Channel Coastal Observatory.