First ever accurate measurements of UK coastline’s retreat

Researchers from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne have embarked on a project to obtain the most accurate measurements ever of the rapidly receding coastline, using satellites, a microlight aircraft and advanced computer technology.

The new method of measuring coastal erosion has been developed by staff from the university’s Department of Geomatics, including Dr Jon Mills, who told edie that it is “the first time that the technology has been applied to this kind of environment”. Mills said that a pilot project on the North Yorkshire coastline at Filey Bay, which is estimated to be eroding by 25cm each year, would provide a testing ground for the technology.

“If, over the next 18 months or so, it is proved that the technique works, and we already have the algorhythms, then we will seek to use it nationwide, compiling the first accurate picture of Britain’s coastal erosion,” Mills said.

The method used to assess erosion along the eight-mile stretch of coast at Filey, involves creating a highly accurate 3D computer model which will also enable researchers to predict when erosion it is most likely to occur and to what extent. Three types of readings will be taken to obtain data to feed into the model: small changes to the coastline are recorded each month by satellite technology provided by the European Space Agency; more detailed results are gained ‘in the field’ by global positioning system (GPS) equipment; and digital aerial photographs taken from a microlight aircraft.

Until now, methods of assessing coastal erosion, which costs central Government and local authorities millions of pounds each year in protection, has involved methods as crude as measuring posts, and experts are generally only able to provide annual estimates as to how much the coast is eroding.

“Coastal change is a huge problem nationally – places like Beachy Head, in East Sussex, and Holderness, East Yorkshire, are suffering similar problems to those found in Filey,” Mills said. “In some cases the coastal stretches governed by a single authority will be large and monitoring methods relatively crude, making the provision of an up to date database of coastal change time consuming and inefficient. By integrating a number of geomatics techniques, we aim to provide a more accurate and effective solution to the monitoring of coastal areas,” he said, adding that Filey Bay was chosen as a test site due to its wide variety of coastal processes.

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