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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton


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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Solan M (2020) Benthic-based contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

Description Saltmarsh plants more important that invertebrates in protecting sediment erosion
Sand and mud habitats behave differently
Bed roughness can be biogenic
Exploitation Route Too early to say
Sectors Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description We worked with Winchester Science Centre to install an interactive public exhibit and educational workshop for children. The installation will be live for 5 years.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Education
Impact Types Societal

Description Discussions with various marine stakeholders at Coastal Futures, to outline where our research findings can fulfil their evidence requirements and current research priorities
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Influenced opinion and knowledge base.