Scientists aim to keep coastal erosion in check

The erosion of the UK’s coastline may be monitored more accurately thanks to research conducted at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Scientists from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne are making the most accurate measurements ever of the rapidly receding British coastline, using satellites, a microlight aircraft and advanced computer technology.

A team of researchers from the university’s Department of Geomatics are conducting a UK pilot project on the North Yorkshire coastline at Filey Bay, which is estimated to be eroding by 25cm each year.

Coastal erosion is a huge problem nationally and internationally. In Britain coastal protection work costs central Government and local authorities millions of pounds each year.

With the current measuring methods, experts are generally only able to provide annual estimates as to how much the coast is eroding.

But researchers Dr Jon Mills and Simon Buckley, a PhD student, are using new technology to create an accurate 3D-computer model that will illustrate the pattern of erosion and detail when it is most likely to occur and by how much.

Three types of readings are taken to obtain data to feed into the 3D model.

Small changes to the coastline are recorded each month by satellite technology provided by the European Space Agency, whereas more detailed results are gained ‘in the field’ by global positioning system (GPS) equipment and by taking digital aerial photographs from a microlight aircraft.

The researchers are taking the readings over two years and will visit the 8-mile stretch of coast at Filey three times.

More accurate figures on erosion could help local authorities decide when and where limited and costly resources for coastal management should be directed.

‘Coastal change is a huge problem nationally, said Dr Jon Mills, a lecturer in the Department of Geomatics. ‘By integrating a number of geomatics techniques, we aim to provide a more accurate and effective solution to the monitoring of coastal areas. We chose Filey Bay as a test site for this work due to the wide variety of coastal processes occurring.’

Erosion at Filey Bay is due to both the sea and the rain making a ‘two-pronged attack’ on the cliffs, which are made of boulder clay, a mixture of sand, stones, and soil which becomes soft when wet.

The cliffs sometimes break off in chunks, or landslides can cause the clay to slump onto the beaches.

‘Until recently there has been limited means of measuring the exact pattern of erosion, but our methods should be able to establish more accurately the trends at certain locations,’ concluded Buckley.