Temporal and spatial patterns of shoreline change and exposure of coastal communities and ecosystems to future flood systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.



Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/M009009/1 04/10/2015 31/12/2022
2073548 Studentship NE/M009009/1 30/09/2016 30/03/2020
Description Using the iconic coastal landform of Blakeney Spit, North Norfolk, this PhD research unites two themes with core relevance to the discipline of Geomorphology. Firstly, Blakeney Spit exemplifies the recent turn in coastal management advocating for "natural risk management". Since 2006, Blakeney Spit has been subjected to a less interventionist management approach, that contrasts with the earlier regime of periodically bulldozing parts of the barrier into a steeper cross-shore profile. This case study provides a valuable opportunity to quantify the impact of management regime change on shoreline erosion rates, overwash processes and associated flood hazard. Secondly rather than treating erosion and flooding as distinct hazards, this research emphasises the need to analyse them jointly (as 'combination hazards') in a way that recognises erosion-flooding interaction.

This research combines shoreline reconstruction over the past 130 years (using historical maps, vertical aerial photography and LiDAR datasets) with numerical modelling of extreme events, namely storm surges, using a gravel beach morphodynamic model (XBeach-G). Key findings of this research include:
• Erosion-flooding interactions have implications for coastal risk management. At Blakeney Spit, hotspots of erosion are both temporally and spatially variable over decadal timescales. When a storm surge occurs, the presence of migrating erosion hotspots has important implications for flooding impacts.
• The management change at Blakeney Spit of leaving the barrier to evolve more 'naturally' has resulted in increased erosion rates due to overwashing and breaching. The resultant lowering of the barrier crest increased overwashing water discharge on the landward side during extreme events, but likely reduces the possibility of catastrophic breaching.

This work has relevance beyond the case of Blakeney Spit. Global environmental change is giving rise to non-analogue forcing conditions (accelerating sea-level rise, altered storm character, and growing human pressures) with the potential to affect novel, and hence highly uncertain, interactions between barrier islands, the habitats they comprise and the human activities they support. The potential for hazardous outcomes (breaching, erosion, flooding) places substantial value on understanding barrier dynamics. This work helps to better establish the interactions between coastal hazards, ecosystems and landward communities with the view to improve the management of these complex systems.
Exploitation Route This research has developed a robust methodology for shoreline change analysis using vertical aerial photography and remotely sensed elevation datasets. This methodology is currently under review for publication with the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Scientific Data. The submission includes an open-access data deposit to facilitate uptake of the presented methodologies within the research community.
Sectors Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy

URL https://www.geog.cam.ac.uk/people/pollard/
Description As part of my work on flooding risk, I have worked with the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies, based in the Judge Business School. Given that 13% of the world's urban population resides in coastal zones <10m below sea level, one of the most severe threats to the successful functioning of future cities will be coastal flooding. Uniting satellite, elevation, and coastal flooding datasets, I have developed a model capable of mapping flood risk in any city in the world. Results from the model are being used by the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies to inform the Cambridge Risk Index 2019 - a platform to show economic losses across 279 cities from man-made and natural threats. More details on the Cambridge Risk Index can be found here: https://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/faculty-research/centres/risk/publications/multi-threat/global-risk-index-2019/
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Financial Services, and Management Consultancy
Impact Types Economic

Title Aerial photography, LiDAR volumetric change and LiDAR cross-shore profile protocols and shoreline error at Scolt Head Island, North Norfolk Coast, UK. PANGAEA, 
Description This is a series of demonstration datasets, associated with a journal submission to Nature Scientific Data. This is intended to encourage wider use of a series of procedures for digitising shorelines from vertical aerial photographs and calculating volumetric change from elevation datasets. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None as yet - still awaiting journal publication of the associated paper. 
URL https://doi.pangaea.de/10.1594/PANGAEA.896270
Description Coastal flood risk consultancy 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department Centre for Risk Studies
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I built a global flood hazard model using Google Earth Engine. The flood hazard model used a simple bathtub approach to quantify storm surge flooding hazard in 279 cities across the globe, which collectively represent 60 % of global GDP. Storm surge flooding hazard contributed to the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies' more general 'City Risk Index' which also incorporates social, economic, and political risks. The coastal flood hazard model was also used to assess potential losses for a company with numerous assets located in coastal locations.
Collaborator Contribution The Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies has a City Risk Index, which quantifies 22 risks across 279 cities worldwide.
Impact The coastal flood risk component was included in the Cambridge Centre for Risk studies 2019 launch of their City Risk Index. This event was hosted at the global (re)insurance company, Willis Towers Watson.
Start Year 2018
Description Flood Risk Communication 
Organisation Environment Agency
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution This collaboration is an outcome of the 2017 DREAM Challenge Week in which I led the design of an infographic designed to communicate coastal flooding risk to the public. Following interest from individuals within the Environment Agency, the infographic underwent several iterations to come up with a final version for focus group testing. The focus group testing is currently underway. If the infographic is percieved to be effective, it will be incorporated within the EA's 2018 Winter Flood Awareness campaign.
Collaborator Contribution The Environment Agency provided input to the design of the infographic and will provide a platform for further testing and dissemination.
Impact Flood Risk Communication Infographic
Start Year 2017
Description Cambridge Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Arranging a series of activities relating to the research of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit. This event was part of the two week Cambridge Science Festival. Activities included: demonstration of fieldwork methods; insights to modelling coastal systems; displays on flood risk on the North Norfolk coast.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
Description Pint of Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Organising a range of talks from academics and policy makers about the impacts on climate change in the UK and globally.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017