The coastal conundrum: Balancing the costs of erosion vs. flooding

Nov 30, 2012
The coastal conundrum – balancing the costs of erosion v flooding

Ensuring continued flood protection for low lying coastal areas may mean sacrificing cliff top communities to the sea, experts reveal.

A study, carried out by scientists from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and today awarded the 2012 Lloyd's Science of Risk prize for Climate Change research, shows how the benefits of protecting our coastline from erosion must be balanced against the impacts of .

Focussing on a 72km stretch of shoreline along the East Anglian coast, the team detail the interconnection between the two risks of erosion and flooding and show that in some cases, allowing natural erosion of coastlines could reduce the impact of flooding in surrounding areas associated with rising levels.

Richard Dawson, Professor of Earth Systems Engineering at Newcastle University, lead author of this study says the research – which will be further developed in a new book to be launched in Spring 2013 - highlights the trade-off between shoreline and other priorities.

"We know that sea levels are rising and will continue to do so over the 21st Century, what we don't know is by exactly how much, or how fast," he explains.

"That means we need flexible strategies in place so that we are ready whatever the climate throws at us in the future. These strategies must be coordinated and recognise the large scale connectivity of coastal processes – such as the movement of sand along the coastline.

"Given pressures of and large , coupled with increased pressure on finances, it seems unlikely we will be able to afford to protect every stretch of coastline. Land will be lost to the sea so we're going to have to make about what our priorities are."

Coastal defences put in place by Victorian engineers over a century ago have re-shaped the UK coastline, artificially protecting some areas but at the expense of beaches in adjacent areas.

This man-made situation increases the risk of flooding in low lying coastal settlements where beaches act as a natural flood defence. Beach levels can be artificially recharged but Professor Dawson says maintaining this indefinitely along large stretches of coastline is likely to be unsustainable.

" typify the environmental challenge our society faces - their beauty and economic opportunities attracts settlement and they include some of our most important ecosystems and most productive farmland. Yet this exposes us to hazards such as erosion and flooding which will be exacerbated by sea level rise.

"Clearly we can't, and wouldn't want to, remove all our sea defences but there are difficult tradeoffs to be made in prioritising coastal management measures.

"Our research provides a common platform to get all parties round the table – local residents, policy-makers, insurers, scientists and farmers to name but a few – to understand each other's perspectives, discuss potential compensatory arrangements, and collectively decide the best way forward."

Explore further: Education is key to climate adaptation

More information: Dawson, R. et al., Integrated analysis of risks of coastal flooding and cliff erosion under scenarios of long term change, Climatic Change, Vol 95 pp249–288, Nov. 29, 2012. www.ncl.ac.uk/ceser/researchpr… nunderscenarios.html

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rising sea threatens coastline

Jan 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Experts at The University of Manchester are to produce a detailed picture of the public’s views on the uncertain future of a 250-mile-stretch of coastline.

Chilling climate-change related news

Feb 17, 2012

A presentation at the world’s largest science fair by a Simon Fraser University earth sciences professor promises to make the skin crawl of even the most ardent disbelievers of the predicted impacts of climate change.

Recommended for you

Education is key to climate adaptation

3 hours ago

Given that some climate change is already unavoidable—as just confirmed by the new IPCC report—investing in empowerment through universal education should be an essential element in climate change adaptation ...

India court slams Delhi's worsening air pollution

12 hours ago

India's environment court has slammed the government over the capital's horrendous air pollution, which it said was "getting worse" every day, and ordered a string of measures to bring it down.

US proposes stricter ozone limits

23 hours ago

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced plans Wednesday to strengthen emission regulations for ozone, a smog-causing pollutant blamed for respiratory ailments affecting millions of Americans.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rwinners
not rated yet Nov 30, 2012
I think that this is all about when and which first, rather than preventing destruction along land/sea boundaries. It is going to happen. Who goes first?
rwinners
not rated yet Nov 30, 2012
I think the better question is about who is going to pay to replace homes that were built on clearly eroding land. Personally, I think the government at some level should buy the land and help the former owners relocate to more solid surroundings. If they choose to rebuild, it should be made known that no one will bail the out next time.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.