Scientists develop sustainable solutions against coastal flooding and erosion

Photo credit: Sefton Council’s FCERM team

The National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in partnership with University of Liverpool, Cranfield University, and St Andrews University has been awarded funding by UK Research and Innovation as one of six new research projects that aim to build a sustainable future for the marine environment and all those whose livelihoods depend on it.

Led by Dr Laurent Amoudry from NOC, the ‘Co-Opt’ project will develop new tools that will allow better decisions to be made to both protect coasts from changing climate and help deliver net zero ambitions.

Protecting the coast by maintaining hard ‘grey’ defences against flooding and erosion such as traditional sea walls, as currently planned, is unlikely to be cost-effective. The newly proposed sustainable coastal management and adaptation will therefore require a broader range of actions, and greater use of softer ‘green’ solutions that work with nature, this includes restoration of coastal habitats such as saltmarshes or vegetated dunes.

Dr Laurent Amoudry, Associate Head of Marine Physics and Ocean Climate at the National Oceanography Centre, said: “NOC will quantify the positive and negative environmental impacts of different management approaches under future climate scenarios. We are excited to work with coastal managers in England, Wales and Scotland, as well as international partners, to establish new tools to quantify social and economic values of approaches that work with nature. Our results will allow better decisions to be made that both protect our coasts from the changing climate and also help deliver other key objectives, such as net zero.”

Coastal hazards will be increasing over the next century, primarily driven by unavoidable sea level rise. It is, therefore, essential to ensure that UK coasts are managed so that coastal protection is resilient to future climate change. Coastal flooding was the second highest risk after pandemic flu on the UK government's risk register in 2017. Additionally, over 1.8 million homes are at risk of coastal flooding and erosion in England alone.

Dr Leonie Robinson, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology at the University of Liverpool, said: “The University of Liverpool will lead on work that will explore what can and cannot be managed at the coast, identifying key enablers, but also barriers, to achieve particular outcomes. Specifically, we’re keen to know what has limited the uptake of green solutions, such as managed realignment and restoration of coastal habitat, and to understand what could help support their implementation going forward.”

Dr Anil Graves, Senior Lecturer – Land Use Systems, Centre for Environmental and Agricultural Informatics, Cranfield University, said: "Cranfield University is delighted to be part of the Co-Opt project and is looking forward to working on this important topic with such a diverse research team. The project will apply economic and social science methods to evaluate the benefits and responses associated with different coastal management options.”