Detecting sea-level rise acceleration to improve UK coastal flood defences

September 26, 2016, University of Southampton
South view of the Thames Barrier, taken on 12 October 2008. Credit: James Campbell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Accelerations in the rate of sea-level rise and the time required to upgrade coastal flood defence infrastructure, such as the Thames Barrier, will be investigated as part of a new research initiative.

Led by the University of Southampton, and involving the National Oceanography Centre, the E-Rise project will aim to better understand the likely lead times for upgrading or replacing coastal defence infrastructure around the UK during the 21st century. It will also assess whether we could detect sea-level accelerations earlier to provide sufficient lead time for action.

Associate Professor Ivan Haigh, from Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton, who is leading the project, says: "There is strong observational evidence that global mean sea-levels are rising and the rate of rise is predicted to accelerate, significantly threatening hundreds of billions of pounds of infrastructure around the UK coast. Substantial upgrades or replacements to coastal defences will therefore be required to maintain existing flood risk management standards."

Professor Robert Nicholls, from Engineering in the Environment at the University of Southampton, adds: "Upgrading coastal flood defence infrastructure will involve long lead times relating to both planning (time to obtain the financial and political support to carry out the upgrade or replacement) and implementation (time to source the company and materials to carry out the work) of schemes. For example, plans for building the Thames Barrier were started soon after the notorious 1953 North Sea flood, but the Barrier was not operational until 1982 - nearly 30 years later! It is therefore very important that we understanding likely lead times for upgrading/replacing coastal defence infrastructure around the UK."

Dr Francisco Calafat from the National Oceanography Centre, says: "The issue of sea-level acceleration is particularly important, as rapid rates of rise will reduce the lead time available for upgrading/replacing defence infrastructure. Moreover, detecting accelerations in the rate of sea-level rise is complicated because of the considerable inter-annual variability evident in sea level at regional/local scales, which 'swamps' the smaller underlying acceleration signal. This project will assess whether we could detect sea-level accelerations earlier by removing known sources of variability to provide sufficient lead time for action."

The Environment Agency and EDF Energy are among the project's stakeholders. Katy Francis from the Environment Agency's Thames Estuary 2100 Team, said: "With the rate of increasing due to climate change, coastal flood defence infrastructure around parts of the UK will need to be upgraded or replaced. We are excited to be partnering with the world leading experts at the University of Southampton and National Oceanography Centre in this field of research, and hope the results of their research will enable us to detect sea-level accelerations earlier to provide more time for action."

E-Rise is a one-year project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) as part of the Environmental Risks to Infrastructure Innovation Programme.

Explore further: Determining if sea level rise is accelerating

Related Stories

Determining if sea level rise is accelerating

May 9, 2014

Scientists have developed a new method for revealing how sea levels might rise around the world throughout the 21st century to address the controversial topic of whether the rate of sea level rise is currently increasing.

Coastal communities must plan for sea level rise

December 10, 2014

Coastal communities could be significantly damaged if authorities don't plan ahead for sea-level rise, according to University of Queensland experts studying coastal inundation.

Sand-engine to protect against coastal erosion

October 29, 2015

The UK's first investigation into the use of beach widening to reduce coastal flooding and erosion is being led by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in partnership with the University of Liverpool.

Recommended for you

New evidence for plume beneath Yellowstone National Park

March 20, 2018

A pair of researchers from the University of Texas has found what they claim is evidence of a plume beneath Yellowstone National Park. In their paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience, Stephen Grand and Peter Nelson ...

Researchers name new ocean zone: The rariphotic

March 20, 2018

Based on the unique fish fauna observed from a manned submersible on a southern Caribbean reef system in Curaçao, Smithsonian explorers defined a new ocean-life zone, the rariphotic, between 130 and 309 meters (about 400 ...

Thawing permafrost produces more methane than expected

March 20, 2018

Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas that is roughly 30 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide (CO2). Both gases are produced in thawing permafrost as dead animal and plant remains are decomposed. However, ...


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.