Physical and biological dynamic coastal processes and their role in coastal recovery (BLUE-coast)

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


The BLUE-coast consortium addresses NERC highlight topic B, Coastal morphology: coastal sediment budgets and their
role in coastal recovery. This project will adopt a holistic and multidisciplinary approach, combining the expertise of
biologists, coastal engineers, geologists, geomorphologists and oceanographers with complementary experimental (field
and laboratory) and numerical skills, to understand what processes control the coastal system dynamics and answer the
relevant scientific questions.
BLUE-coast will explicitly address uncertainties in the prediction of medium-term (years) and long -term (decadal and
longer) regional sediment budgets and better understand morphological change and how the coast recovers after
sequences of events, such as storms by: (i) improving representation of both transportable and source material within the
coastal zone within models; (ii) establishing how transportable material is mediated by the ecological system using
exemplar habitats representative of the UK coastal zone; (iii) assessing sensitivities of this mixed-sediment physical and
biological system to possible changes in external forcing, including the combined impact of multiple variables and
sequences of events, with the goal of understanding the internal dynamics of the system (e.g. nonlinearities, critical
thresholds, tipping points, precursors and antecedent conditions) in parallel with assessments of behavioural uncertainties,
and (iv) reduce uncertainties in medium to long -term prediction of regional sediment budgets and morphological change.
Project Overview: the scope of the Highlight Topic sets a requirement for quantitative knowledge on both physical and
biological dynamic coastal processes in order to improve hydrodynamic model predictions of regional sediment budgets
and morphological change. To deliver an integrated, holistic and cost effective response, our main activities will combine (i)
a detailed study of representative shelf sea landscapes that spans the full variety of organism-sediment conditions typically
observed in temperate coasts, with (ii) in situ validation studies of key processes, and (iii) manipulative laboratory and field
experiments aimed at unambiguously identifying causal relationships and establishing generality, and (iv) integration of
new understanding of controls and effects on coastal morphodynamics at regional scales and under environmental forcing.
By undertaking a substantial element of in situ observation and process studies, we will directly quantify the effect of
antecedent conditions on coastal erosion and recovery, the effect of biota on mediating sediment fluxes and pathways and
the effect of event sequencing on coastal erosion and recovery, across a range of geographically significant sediment
habitats. These data will act as calibration and validation datasets for existing and innovative numerical models that will be
able to simulate the coastal morphological consequences of key biological and physical drivers, alone and in combination.
We will gain mechanistic understanding and achieve generality by performing carefully controlled experiments, generating
different flow regimes using flumes, tracking changes during natural events using state-of-the-art field measurement
technology and, in the laboratory, using intact sediments and sediment communities exposed to anticipated future
conditions (warming, ocean acidification, nutrient loading). As it is not feasible to quantify all the relevant morphodynamic
processes at high spatial resolution across the entire UK coast, our approach is to address the principal objectives through
4 interdisciplinary workpackages that follow a logical progression of scientific themes.

Planned Impact

Our research will deliver improved predictions of coastal erosion in different coastal habitats, along with modelling tools to
better understand coastal recovery and to understand the implications of climate change for coastal systems. We will
provide evidence-based advice for different options for coastal protection and management. We will engage with
stakeholders at the national (e.g. Defra, Environment Agency), regional (e.g. District Councils, Internal Drainage Boards,
Regional Flood and Coastal Committees) and local level (e.g. community groups, coastal flood fora, the public) using
workshops, web-based material, newsletters and an end-of-project roadshow. We will also engage with non-government
organisations associated with coastal land management (e.g. National Trust, Crown Estate) or with interests in protecting
specific coastal marine species or habitats (e.g. Wildlife Trusts, RSPB). We will produce a series of short accessible
videos having adopted the technique successfully before. Management of the project's impacts will be under the newly
created Institute for Sustainable Coasts and Oceans at Liverpool. We will produce an annual project newsletter and the
communications teams of all institutes will be proactive with regular press releases for both national and regional media
opportunities, especially focusing on local media in the three 'coastal type' areas where our fieldwork activities will take
place. We will develop a programme of engagement based around interactive activities at community events, visits and
school project work and will target 'hard to reach' sectors of the community through exploring partnerships with
organizations such as the Active Learning Partnership.
We will disseminate our final results at a mobile roadshow that spend a day at a key location within each Regional Flood
and Coastal Committee. This "Moving Coastlines Show" will culminate close to London where we will invite national level
stakeholders (e.g. Defra, Environment Agency, Natural England) and stage a question-time style debate. The KE officer
(NOC) will work closely with the Knowledge Exchange expertise at each institute to monitor and ensure timely delivery of
outreach and impact. Quantitative measures of success will include numbers of people participating in engagement events;
participation in our "Moving Coastlines Show"; usage of our online materials; and by using YouTube Analytics for our public
outreach material, as well as the number of media articles generated. Policy impact will be gauged by the influence that
our work has on strategic environmental planning, but success in this area would be maximized by changes in coastal
planning attributable to our project, particularly in the guidance for Shoreline Management Plans.


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Gómez-Pazo A (2021) Open Digital Shoreline Analysis System: ODSAS v1.0 in Journal of Marine Science and Engineering

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Morgan D (2022) Passive Seismic Surveys for Beach Thickness Evaluation at Different England (UK) Sites in Journal of Marine Science and Engineering

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Payo A (2018) Reply to referee #1

Title The Frame Rate Series 
Description This project, by funding the data collection during the winter months along the coastal Cliff of Happisburgh, contributed to the ScanLab creation of Beautiful VR and Film exploring the world's largest time-based point cloud dataset. The rhythmic ebb and flow of sand and pebbles across a beach and the dramatic, perpetual eating away of the cliff in one of the UK's coastal erosion hotspots 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact A form of machine vision that we argue is the future of photography. As the electronic eyes for billions of mobile phones and driverless vehicles 3D scanners are the cartographers of the future. By critically observing places and events through the eyes of these machines our work hopes to glance at the future we will all inhabit. 
Description We have developed a new modelling framework (CoastalME) that is being used to marry different components of coastal change modelling. This represents a step-change in our ability to model (predict) and understand the behaviour of coastal change under a variety of conditions, and it includes the ability to specify specific bathymetry in the nearshore, specific lithologies (rock types) on land, and the specific locations of cliff top and cliff bottom. We have also developed a new algorithm to automatically detect from a digital elevation model the cliff top and cliff toe.

Subsequent to this, we have gained a better understanding of the role of the substrate (i.e. the geology) in mediating the rates and style of coastal erosion. The role of geology is keenly illustrated through our analysis of the removal of coastal defences, which can yield unexpected rapid erosion. See publications for more detail.

Measurement of the longshore sediment transport rate in the surf zone remains one of the great challenges in coastal engineering and coastal sciences. Streamer traps for sand beaches have proven useful in the past, but are not suitable for Mixed Sand and Gravel (MSG) beaches. We have developed a portable depth integrated, streamer trap designed to measure the depth-integrated combined bed load and suspended longshore sediment transport on MSG beaches. The device has been tested in the field under moderate wave conditions at Minsmere, UK. Empirical efficiency of wave breaking and bed load are several orders of magnitude larger than for uniform fine sand values.
Exploitation Route The research project is active and being developed by ourselves and consortium partners.

Our analysis on the relationship between beach volume and cliff retreat rate can better inform the new Environment Agency "Asset Performance tools: guidance for beach trigger". (link below). The guide explicitly state for Beach backed by a cliff that "There is no single, easily applicable method for calculating the beach profile required to
limit cliff erosion". Our proposed method and results (J. Mar. Sci. Eng. 2020, 8(1), 20; can directly fill this practice gap.

Link to EA report here:

Our analysis of the role of the backshore geometry on the response to open coast coastlines to sea level rise (J. Mar. Sci. Eng. 2020, 8(11), 866; can be use to better manage the nearshore sediment budget at national scale by identifying the potential sink and sources of sediment that feed the nearshore region.
Sectors Environment,Other

Description The software tool CoastalME has been used by the Regional Goverment of Andalucia (southern Spain) to assess the likely coastal morphological change of the entire Andalucian coastline (ca. 1,200km). Following the initial work done in Trimingham, we have been able to provide advice to coastal partnership East EA on how the could develop a coastal mapping tool that is suitable for their anticipated transition between Shoreline Management Plan epoch 1 to epoch 2. In particular we informed them about what is now technically possible thanks to the new methods (e.g. sediment thickness modelling) developed as part of BLUEcoast project.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Influence International Policy decision making
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The Regional goverment of Andalucia, manage the coastal zone for multiple uses. To grant permissions they need to assess the risk of flooding and coastal erosion. Our modelling approach has proven to be an effective operational software tool to provide robust evidence based assessment that can be used by planners.
Description NC&C
Amount £2,713,354 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/W004992/1 
Organisation National Oceanography Centre 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2022 
End 03/2027
Title Development of sediment traps 
Description We have developed (designed and built) sediment traps that allow the direct sampling of beach sediment that is being transported alongshore. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This tool allows important constraints to be developed for the calibration of computer models, which we will be using to predict coastal change over human time-scales as the project continues. 
Title Point measurements of total longshore sediment transport rates in mixed sand and gravel beaches 
Description Observations of the depth integrated and time averaged sediment transport were measured at 19 locations inside the surf zone on a Mixed Sand-Gravel beach. These were taken under moderate offshore wave energy conditions and varying water levels, and these are presented and analysed to examine the performance of a new portable streamer trap. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Accurate observation of combined bed load and suspended sediment transport inside the surf zone on a MSG beach are challenging to make and there are not many devices at the disposal of the Coastal Engineering community to choose from. With this work we have proposed and tested a new portable device to fill this gap. The combined use of a numerical model able to accurately reproduce the hydrodynamic under field conditions with the proposed Depth Integrated Streamer Trap and auxiliary wave energy and current velocity measurement devices has the potential to improve our understanding of sediment transport on MSG beaches. 
Description Collaboration with Granada University 
Organisation University of Granada
Country Spain 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Support on the use and further development of the Coastal Modelling Environment to assess the long term evolution of the Andalucian Coast, South Spain
Collaborator Contribution Tested our software on different environments and start operationalizing it for Engineering Consultants
Impact Model is now routinely used to inform the local and regional governments.
Start Year 2020
Description Working Group Coastal Resilience 
Organisation European Marine Board
Country Belgium 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Provide an overview of the current state of the art in methods and tools for coastal resilience, knowledge gaps, and problem definition for future challenges; Help close the gap between conservation and restoration research and policy in the European marine environment and contiguous regions (and discuss the contradictions between economic and environmental policy drivers); Evaluate existing frameworks for transboundary cooperative planning; and identify and propose future developments for conservation and restoration measures; Inform EU policy on the need for legislation that will ensure/promote science-based decision making in coastal conservation, restoration, habitat and biodiversity management; Build capacity and literacy in coastal ecosystem conservation, restoration, and resilience among stakeholders including scientists, policymakers, the private sector and the wider public.
Collaborator Contribution Coastal zones include many important ecosystems e.g. kelp and seagrass beds, coral and oyster reefs, mangroves, and sponge grounds. These provide critical ecosystem services, including blue carbon storage, storm and sea level rise protection, fisheries and aquaculture production and fish spawning grounds. In order to secure these ecosystem services for the future, a combination of actions are needed to promote resilience to stressors including nature-based solutions i.e. conservation efforts that reduce or mitigate human impacts and physical stressors, and habitat restoration. Other adaptation measures include coastal protection and adoption of adaptive management practices. This working group will focus on the resilience of coasts from a holistic perspective including natural sciences (ecological, hydrological, chemical, physical, geological, etc.), ecosystem service provision, and links to socio-economic and governance systems.
Impact The output of this working group will be a position paper, to be launched in Spring 2022.
Start Year 2020
Title Coastal Modelling Environment 
Description CoastalME is a modelling environment to simulate decadal and longer coastal morphological changes. It is an engineering tool for advanced modellers seeking to simulate the interaction of multiple coastal landforms and different types of human interventions Payo et al. (2015). Payo et al., (2016) described in detail the rationale behind CoastalME and demonstrated how it can be used to integrate; the Soft Cliff and Platform Erosion model SCAPE, the Coastal Vector Evolution Model COVE and the Cross Shore model CSHORE. The software is written in C++ following the object oriented paradigm and has been documented using Doxygen. The C++ source code is available for download under GNU open source license. Creation and visualization of all inputs an ouputs can be done using your prefereed text editor (i.e. Notepad++ for the config files) and QGIS (for the raster and vector output files). 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2020 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Further collaboration and research with University of Granada and New Zealand 
Title Portable Depth Integrated Streamer Trap (DIST) 
Description Observations of the depth integrated and time averaged sediment transport were measured at 19 locations inside the surf zone on a MSG beach. These were taken under moderate offshore wave energy conditions and varying water levels, and these are presented and analysed to examine the performance of a new portable streamer trap (DIST). The proposed Depth Integrated Streamer Trap (DIST) is inspired by the design described by Kraus (1987), but avoids errors associated with fitting a vertical distribution to a discrete number of elevations by using a streamer trap mouth big enough to capture all sediment at depths where it is safe to deploy the device (1 m mean water depth). Stability of the device is achieved by gravity (i.e. combined weight of the device and operator) instead of thrusting the legs of the frame into the seabed. The proposed design mitigates some of the known limitations of existing sediment trap devices. Bed disturbance (scour) around the trapping element is minimized by use of a reticulated base that quickly settles into the sea bed. The trap is designed to measure the combined bed load and suspended load sediment transport during short (5-10 min) deployments. The device is heavy enough (46 kg) to provide stability, but can be transported by two people. The trap is easily operated with minimum sample handling in the field. The trap mouth, streamer dimension and mesh size have been made large enough to avoid local acceleration or deceleration of flow, but we have not measured the trap hydraulic resistance and sediment trapping characteristics. The weakest mechanical element of the device is the streamer sieve mesh. To avoid the streamer from breaking, the authors have subsequently replaced the original polyester mesh by a stainless steel mesh of same mesh size. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2020 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Further collaboration and research 
Description End user workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A workshop on the role of geology on coastal resilience
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Presentation at Norfolk Coastal Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The purpose of this event was to share the Trimingham analysis where we show how the cliff top retreat is controlled by the beach volume.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020