Exploring Dynamics of Natural Capital in Coastal barrier Systems

Dr Eli Lazarus, UoS; Prof Felix Eigenbrod, UoS

Coastal barrier systems – environments typified by beaches, ridges, dunes, floodplains, and wetlands – provide a wide variety of ecosystem services, from flood protection and carbon sequestration to recreation and cultural heritage. Some ecosystem services may be quantified in economic terms of natural capital: resources of some estimable value to people. This project will explore and quantify how ecosystem services – and natural capital, specifically – manifest in coastal barrier systems in the UK and elsewhere around the world. Given that there are many types of coastal barrier systems, how does their natural capital differ? Furthermore, because coastal barrier systems are inherently dynamic, changing gradually over time and suddenly with storm events, how do stocks of natural capital change with them? How are different types of ecosystem services, and stocks of natural capital, linked in space and time? Where are there trade-offs in space and time between different types of ecosystem services and stocks of natural capital? Insight into these and other fundamental questions regarding the dynamics of ecosystem services and natural capital in coastal barrier systems is essential for most effectively supporting


Methods for this project will involve innovative combination and quantitative analysis of regional and global open-access geospatial datasets using open-source computational tools (coded in Python and/or R). For example, ecosystem services and natural capital (e.g., flood protection, carbon sequestration) over time might be assessed, to a first approximation, from quantitative classification of satellite imagery spanning >30 years using Google Earth Engine, and then by applying empirical and generalised relationships (e.g., for surge attenuation, storm clean-up costs, carbon sequestration rates, etc.) from published literature and government reports. This approach (a kind of data-driven modelling) might be applied to gravel and mixed-sediment coastal barriers of the UK, and then extended to a sample of other barrier systems globally. Field visits to coastal barrier systems in the UK (with project partners) will support and deepen understanding of site-specific management concerns.

University of Southampton, Highfield Campus

The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multidisciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at School of Geography & Environmental Science. Specific training will include: • bespoke analysis and visualization of geospatial data analysis and visualization techniques using open-source code (Python, R) • transferrable experience with tools and techniques for ‘big data’ management • experience integrating physical/ecological data with management and policy guidance • writing for publication in peer-reviewed journals

Eligibility & Funding Details: 

Please see https://inspire-dtp.ac.uk/how-apply for details.


Background Reading: 

Holland, R. A., Eigenbrod, F., Armsworth, P. R., Anderson, B. J., Thomas, C. D., & Gaston, K. J. (2011). The influence of temporal variation on relationships between ecosystem services. Biodiversity and Conservation, 20(14), 3285-3294 • Spake, R., Lasseur, R., Crouzat, E., Bullock, J. M., Lavorel, S., Parks, K. E., ... & Eigenbrod, F. (2017). Unpacking ecosystem service bundles: Towards predictive mapping of synergies and trade-offs between ecosystem services. Global Environmental Change, 47, 37-50 • Masselink, G., & Lazarus, E. D. (2019). Defining coastal resilience. Water, 11(12), 2587