Coastal resilience and vulnerability

Research from the Department of Geography’s Dr Sue Brooks examines the impact from extreme weather in the UK, and how damage to coastlines can be mitigated.

New research from Dr Sue Brooks assesses the impact of the extreme storminess that occurred in the winter of 2013-14 in the UK, where monthly rainfall was over 200% of the 1981-2010 average. The damage from this extreme weather affected landforms, habitats, societies and infrastructure, and varied noticeably across the UK. Several high-magnitude storms over the course of the winter were particularly devastating in the west and south-west of the UK; while a single extreme storm did most of the damage in the east.

Published in the Geographical Association’s flagship journal Geography, the article highlights how new technologies can be used to quantify some of the key coastal impacts of such events. It also explores the need for new strategies for forecasting, early warning and evacuation planning to mitigate possible future damage in the context of rising sea levels and changing storm tracks.

Summarising her research, Dr Brooks said: “We need to be able to inform policy decision-making over shoreline management, through computer-based modelling for effective early warning and flood-risk modelling of the nearshore zones that are likely to be inundated. We are experiencing a major upsurge in data capture and analytical methods, which can be used to elucidate many of the issues important for shoreline management in the coming decades.”

"The legacy of the devastation caused by the winter of 2013-14 remains visible on several coastlines across the UK. So going forward, what lessons can be learnt, and what are the challenges facing us? The task of establishing the extent and rate at which shorelines can recover from such impacts is now paramount but possible using the latest technologies. Many of the natural dunes and barriers on coastlines, such as at Brancaster Bay and Holkham in North Norfolk, and Perranporth in SW England had their sediment volume reduced and this now needs to be recovered, as these dunes provide a protective barrier against high tides and storm impact.

“Given the combination of contrasting shoreline impacts from storms and different coastal settings between the east and south-west of the UK, we are likely to see contrasting rates and patterns of recovery. These differences need to be taken into account when developing shoreline management plans in future. This is not an easy task, but is greatly facilitated by modern-day satellite, airborne and ground based monitoring.”

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