Coastal Sediment Systems

Programme overview

The Coastal Sediment Systems Research Programme was a four-year programme, set up as a collaboration with NERC, the Environment Agency (EA) and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).

The objective of this programme was to improve our capability to predict long-term and regional scale change on the coasts and in our estuaries.

This programme addressed the Coastal Flooding & Coastal Erosion Challenge in the NERC natural hazards strategy theme report, and also aimed to directly contribute to future revisions of the Environment Agency's Long-Term Investment Strategy and UK government's strategic goals with respect to adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change. It was also anticipated that this programme would make a significant contribution to the Living With Environmental Change programme

Background & objectives

UK coastal areas are at great risk of flooding and erosion, and climate change will increase this vulnerability. The potential coastal impacts of climate change are serious in the UK, but are even greater globally. Predicting the effects of climate change on major coastal systems worldwide is a major scientific challenge.

Coastal landforms such as beaches, spits, sandbanks, mudflats and salt marshes will be important in determining severity of climatic impacts on coastal communities and ecosystems. If there is not enough sediment, or under unfavourable ocean conditions, these will erode or fail to accrete, providing little coastal protection.

In the course of the last century, human activities have greatly changed the coastline. In many instances these now have reduced resilience to future changes. Adapting to these will involve managing coastal systems that may already be unstable. Doing so relies on scientific predictions. The coast's response to minor changes can already be analysed, but the possibility of major changes (either due to natural processes or human interventions) requires a new generation of predictive methods.

Without adaptation to climate change, costs resulting from damage caused by coastal flooding and erosion will rise enormously. Consequently, there is a widespread call to adapt traditional, highly engineered, approaches to coastal management.

Many national and regional authorities responsible for managing the coastal zone have recognised the value of using quantitative information and system models to understand both the likely changes in coastal flooding and erosion risk and the possible effects of potential management actions on society and the environment. However, there are few modelling initiatives that encapsulate the effects of sediment erosion, transport and deposition on the development of the coastline at a regional scale.

There was, therefore, a pressing need for improved modelling of large-scale coastal sediment dynamics, which focus on sediment pathways and coastal development, which will underpin future coastal flood and erosion risk management.

Development of a joint programme

The Environment Agency's Flood Risk Science Programme is run jointly with Defra to deliver a comprehensive programme of research and development to support Flood Risk Management policymakers and practitioners. Under this programme the Coastal & Estuarine Systems Tools (CoaEST) Project was commissioned to address the need to understand long-term structural change on our coastlines.

During the delivery of the first phase of CoaEST it became clear that the Defra / EA Joint Research Programme and the UK's Living With Environmental Change Partnership shared a common objective to improve understanding of long-term morphological change, and that at the same time NERC was developing a relevant programme.

Under this collaboration NERC contributed £3 million to the research costs of the programme. EA / Defra contributed the outputs of the first phase of the CoaEST project, access to data, and through the second phase of the CoaEST project embedded the research outcomes in operational practices, which will be critical for achieving the expected benefits.

Reports and key findings

The following documents and links are related to or give more information about this programme.

View details of funded Coastal Sediment System applications - external link

ICOASST final report (PDF, 456KB)