iCoast: Integrated COASTal sediment systems

Lead Research Organisation: British Geological Survey
Department Name: Climate & Landscape Change


Prediction of changing coastal morphology over timescales of decades raises scientific challenges to which there are not yet widely applicable solutions. Yet improved predictions are essential in order to quantify the risk of coastal erosion, which is significant in its own right and also one of the main mediators of coastal flood risk. Whilst 'bottom-up' process-based models provide valuable evidence about hydrodynamic, sediment transport and morphodynamic processes in the short term, their predictive accuracy over scales of decades is for the time being fundamentally limited. Meanwhile, behavioural systems models, that focus on the main processes and feedback mechanisms that regulate coastal form have been shown to have predictive capability at the mesoscale (10-100 years and 10-100 km). However, their application has been limited to a rather narrow sub-set of coastal forms.
The iCoast project is based upon a hierarchical systems concept which combines (i) the beneficial features of process-based models, (ii) a new generation of coastal behavioural systems models, and (iii) an extended approach to coastal systems mapping, which can be used to systematise and formalise different sources of knowledge about coastal behaviour. All the software developed within iCoast will be open source and OpenMI compliant.
The research is focussed upon four deliverables that have been identified as major challenges in the NERC Natural Hazards Theme:
Deliverable 1 will be an overall systems framework. The successful approach to coastal systems mapping developed by French et al. will be extended and applied to all of the England and Wales, making use of a new systems mapping tool. These new coastal systems maps can both supersede the coastal cells and sub-cells currently used in shoreline management planning and provide an evidence-based framework for more quantitative modelling. Therein, hydrodynamic and sediment transport coastal area models will be implemented at a broad spatial scale in order to provide evidence of wave and tidal forcings and sediment pathways. The systems framework will be implemented in open source software tools and coupled with methods for uncertainty analysis.
Deliverable 2 will provide a new generation of behavioural geomorphic modules, which can be linked to enable simulation of coupled coastal-estuary-offshore landform behaviour at a meso-scale. Existing reduced complexity behavioural modules, several of which are held in-house within the iCoast consortium (SCAPE, ASMITA, various versions of 1-line beach models) will be reviewed and development and incremental improvement opportunities will be identified. They will be researched intensively by a team with unique experience of this type of model development. The scope of data-based modules that can exploit the growing datasets from coastal observatories will also be extended. The models will be integrated within a systems framework in order to study emergent properties and explore key sensitivities.
Deliverable 3 will entail application and validation of two distinct coastal regions: the Suffolk Coast (Sub-Cell 3c) and Liverpool Bay (Sub-Cells 11a/11b), exploring the sensitivities of these coastal regions to changes in sediment supply resulting from sea-level rise, climate change and coastal management scenarios. This will yield the results needed for high impact publication and the demonstrations that are essential to build confidence in new approaches being transferred into practice.
Deliverable 4 will facilitate knowledge transfer of the new methods through a range of dissemination mechanisms, including tutorials, manuals and knowledge transfer workshops. Our open source modelling strategy will initiate a community modelling approach in the coastal research community, at the same time as maximising access by practitioners to the knowledge generated at a time when requirements for coastal adaptation urgently require new predictive capability.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries from the research fall into two main categories:
1. The worldwide coastal research community, who recognise the difficult problem of mesoscale coastal prediction, will be eager to take up new methodologies. This is evidenced by the rapid uptake of the SCAPE model, which has now been applied in New Zealand and the Great Lakes as well as at several sites in the UK.
2. Coastal practitioners in the UK and worldwide, urgently need new mesoscale predictions of coastal change in order to manage the risks of coastal erosion and coastal flooding. These coastal risks are profoundly influenced by the long term behaviour of coastal sediment systems, but existing predictive approaches are severely limited, especially in conditions of long term change. Coastal practitioners include those in government and its agencies (e.g. the Environment Agency) and those in local authorities with responsibility for coastal management and adaptation. Whilst the focus of the research is upon UK coasts, the leading UK coastal consultants (e.g. Halcrow, HR Wallingford, Royal Haskoning) have considerable international businesses, so the UK is expected to benefit through the exploitation of iCoast science by these organisations in their international businesses.
Ultimately, coastal communities will benefit from more sustainable coastal management that is based upon dependable predictions of coastal change. This will help to reduce the risks from flooding and coastal erosion and help to ensure that the costs of coastal management do not become unmanageable in future, even in the context of a changed climate. Improved and evidence-based coastal management will also help to sustain coastal ecosystems, which are threatened by sea level rise and coastal squeeze.
The benefits from the research will derive from the developed methods for enhancing understanding and predicting processes of coastal change. Enhanced understanding will be delivered in particular via the new tools for systems mapping, which have already proved to be a worthwhile approach to formalising knowledge of coastal processes but which will be considerably extended in the course of the iCoast research. The process of developing behavioural geomorphic models will yield new insights into the controls upon coastal change and the ways in which coasts may be modified by changed environmental forcings. The coastal area modelling will yield new insights into the complex processes of sea bed sediment transport.
Of most practical benefit will be the new predictive tools that are developed in the iCoast project. These will take a number of different forms, including coastal area models, data-based methods and behavioural geomorphic models. They will all be developed with a focus upon predicting the variables of most relevance to coastal managers, along with well justified uncertainty estimates.
There is a realistic prospect that innovations in the iCoast project will be rapidly taken up in practice. There is an urgent need for better predictive models to analyse coastal risks and justify coastal adaptation strategies. Strong links with the practitioner community and well developed knowledge transfer mechanisms mean that outputs can be transferred into practice as soon as they are demonstrated and validated. These innovations need not wait till the end of the project to be taken up in practice.
The cohort of researchers employed in the iCoast project will develop scarce skills and systems perspectives which are in short supply in both the research and practitioner communities. Thus the iCoast project will contribute to the development of these research and professional skills in the research team and amongst the project stakeholders with whom we interact.


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Brown J (2016) Spatio-temporal Variability in the Tipping Points of a Coastal Defense in Journal of Coastal Research

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Hurst MD (2016) Recent acceleration in coastal cliff retreat rates on the south coast of Great Britain. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Lazarus E (2016) An evolving research agenda for human-coastal systems in Geomorphology

Description We have discovered that:
a) coastal erosion is strongly dependent on future wave climates as much as it is on sea-level rise.
b) the migration of very large shingle/sand spits may be strongly counter-intuitive and, again, be a strong function of offshore waves.
c) we have developed a new, more precise method of calculating coastal change in open-coastal environments.
Exploitation Route They are being taken forward by both the EA and coastal area managers in the East Anglia region. The results might get taken up by coastal stakeholders in developing countries in which coastal tourism or coastal infrastructure sustainability is critical to that country's economy.
Sectors Environment

URL http://www.icoasst.net
Description We have shown that coastal erosion over decades to centuries is strongly dependent on future wave climates. We have developed a new method of calculating coastal change over human time-scales. The Environment Agency is aware of both of these results, with the result that the PI (Ellis) is a member of the EA's coastal erosion project Advisory Group, and a member of the Executive Board of the newly formed Norfolk and Suffolk Coastal Managers Group.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Title COVE: Coastal one-line vector-based evolution 
Description This is a new methodology to calculate coastal change in highly crenulate (curved) coastal types. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The model is currently being incorporated into more complex models of coastal change. 
Description Stakeholder engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Several stakeholder workshops occurred during the iCoasst award period. These were located at two sites relevant to the project (Suffolk and the Liverpool area) and involved a mixture of the general public, regjonal coastal area managers, local EA representatives, etc. The purpose was twofold: to inform the audience of the project's aims and objectives, and to gain their input into subsequent directions that the research might go.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016