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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge


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.
Description A computer model has been developed for an area of open coast marsh to allow a map to be produced that shows the stress exerted by waves on the tidal flat and salt marsh when these are under water during the tidal cycle. This can be compared to evidence on marsh erosion to identify how important waves are in driving erosion processes.
Exploitation Route The results will be presented at the EGU conference in April 2019 and can ultimately be taken forward by others who are working to develop better models of marsh erosion under scenarios of sea level rise and altered wave climates.
Sectors Environment

Description NERC Standard Grant
Amount £735,146 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R01082X/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2021
Title Geotechnical properties of coastal wetland soils 
Description This dataset comprises measurements of particle size distribution, peak shear strength, residual shear strength and compressibility from two salt marshes in the UK. It also provides information on the angle of internal friction and the strength attributed to cohesion at each measurement location. The salt marshes chosen were Warton marsh, North West England and Tillingham Marsh, South East England. Undisturbed samples were taken for the shear box, ring shear and oedometer tests. Three sampling sites at each marsh were chosen for undisturbed samples: tidal flat (0-30 cm depth below the surface), marsh edge (0-30 cm and 30-60 cm depth below the surface). Bulk samples were taken from four sites within the marsh: the tidal flat, marsh edge, creek edge and inner marsh. Bulk samples were taken for root mass and particle size analysis at 0-10 cm, 10-20 cm and 20-30 cm at each of these locations, with additional samples at 30-40 cm, 40-50 cm and 50-60 cm at the marsh edge location. Field sampling and measurements were undertaken on 17th-19th July 2017 and 28th September-1st October 2017 at Tillingham and 6th-10th July 2018 at Warton. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Description Cambridge University Science Festival 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Hands-on activity as part of the University Science Festival drop-in session at the Department of Geography at which visitors were able to examine different types of intertidal sediments and inspect the invertebrates that populate them under the microscope. Activities also included a salt marsh identification challenge and a demonstration on how salt marsh sedimentation is measured over time to track its response to sea level rise.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Low Carbon Energy and Environment Research Network Wales - 17th Public Lecture, 13th December 2017 "The challenges of applying science to nature based coastal protection" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact lecture as part of public lecture series, attended by a range of government and charitable organisations as well as academics and students. Vivid debate after the lecture, which was recorded and broadcast via YouTube (see link below). Related tweets and re-tweets earned over 5,000 impressions on Twitter in the two days after the lecture, and drew attention from practitioners who are applying nature-based solutions to coastal flood and erosion risk management in Wales and beyond.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Research Seminar at Southamton National Oceanography Centre on "Rough bottoms: the effect of bed roughness on waves in coastal wetlands" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Research Seminar to challenge application of Oceanographic principles/knowledge to biologically mediated shallow water foreshores, including post-seminar discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description expert advice on coastal protection provided by saltmarshes in the Deben Estuary, Suffolk, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact expert advice on coastal protection provided by saltmarshes in the Deben Estuary to UK HMG DEFRA Marine Pioneer
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019