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Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute

New project to help predict the future of the UK’s coastline

Published: 23 March 2012Origin: Engineering

A new project is being launched that will help forecast what the UK’s coastline will look like in the future, up to 100 years’ time.

The four-year £2.9m iCoast project is bringing together a number of UK universities, research laboratories and leading consultants, to develop new methods that will characterise and forecast long-term changes to coastal sediment systems. This work is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and is partnered by the Environment Agency (EA), who will use these methods to improve long-term flood and erosion risk management.

UK coastal areas are at greater risk of flooding and erosion than their landward equivalents and degradation of their geomorphic systems, due to sediment starvation and/or climate change, could greatly increase these risks.

Previously, the ability to analyse and forecast geomorphic changes was limited. However, thanks to improvements in the analysis of coastal and offshore landform behaviour, the iCoast project will look to develop and implement models that can provide a breakthrough in the prediction of coastal behaviour under conditions of change. These behavioural landform models will be capable of coupled application at regional scales to resolve key reactions between climate forcing, sediment supply, morphology and erosion, and flood risk.

These models will be achieved through four work streams:

  • A Systems Modelling Framework that will characterise coastal elements and features and the relationships between them to define what quantitative models are needed to simulate the data;
  • Producing Behavioural Geomorphic Models using observations to find patterns of behaviour between different geomorphic variables that may then be used to predict future coastal systems behaviour
  • Case studies will be undertaken in two contrasting coastal regions (from Lowestoft to Harwich in Suffolk and Liverpool Bay) to evaluate the results from work streams 1 and 2;
  • Pathway to Impact - ensuring that the results and the component models of the research will be promptly and effectively used in strategic coastal assessments and wider coastal science.

Robert Nicholls, Professor of Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton, says: "The challenge posed by climate change requires a paradigm shift in our approach to coastal erosion and flood risk management. These changes intensify the need to understand and predict processes of change in shoreline position and configuration at management (decadal to century) scales. 

"The iCoast project aims to improve this situation by bringing together formalised knowledge of coastal systems with quantified broad-scale analysis, with the systems insights from a new generation of reduced complexity models. This has the potential to deliver long-term coastal engineering and management solutions, which are relevant to coastal managers." 

The iCoast project grew out of previous work by the Tyndall Centre's Coastal Simulator, which assessed how coastal changes physically affect a region and the impacts of flooding and erosion, and the joint Defra/EA Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management R&D programme, which funded the Estuaries Research Programme (ERP) that laid the groundwork for a lot of hybrid coastal morphology modelling ideas and project SC060074 on characterisation and prediction of large-scale, long-term change of coastal geomorphological behaviours.

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Notes for editors

Notes for editors:

1. The iCoast consortium includes: University of Southampton, University College London, Oxford University, Manchester University, Swansea University, Cardiff University, HR Wallingford, National Oceanography Centre, British Geological Survey, Royal Haskoning and Channel Coastal Observatory.

2. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship across a wide range of subjects in engineering, science, social sciences, health and humanities.  

With over 23,000 students, around 5000 staff, and an annual turnover well in excess of £435 million, the University of Southampton is acknowledged as one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine. We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.

The University is also home to a number of world-leading research centres including the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Institute for Life Sciences, the Web Science Trust and Doctoral training Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, the Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute and is a partner of the National Oceanography Centre at the Southampton waterfront campus.

For further information contact:

Glenn Harris, Media Relations, University of Southampton, Tel: 023 8059 3212, email:

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