University of Sussex Media Release.
. Sussex Geographers Save Our Coastline

19 November 1998
For immediate release

As coastal erosion threatens to plunge local landmarks like Belle Tout into the sea, the issue of protecting our coastline becomes one of pressing urgency. It is also one of enormous expenditure - sea defences on the Sussex coast have cost nearly £10 million since 1996. This bill is set to rise hugely over the next few years, with figures in excess of £50 million a possibility.

But throwing cash at the problem is not always the solution. Geographers at the University of Sussex have been studying the dynamics of rocky coasts, with a view to substantially cutting the cost of erosion in Sussex and beyond. Their EU-funded venture, in partnership with Universities in France, Sweden, Spain and Portugal, will concentrate - literally - on the foundations of the erosion nightmare.

Instead of seeing the sea as a force which must be stopped by a solid wall, the researchers, led by Dr Rendel Williams, are investigating the protective value of the submerged natural rocky platforms which lie just underneath the cliffs. These platforms have a significant impact on the rate of cliff erosion - a wide platform will reduce the rate enormously, whereas a narrow platform will imperil the cliffs. Dr Williams, with fellow Sussex researchers Dr Cherith Moses and Dr David Robinson, is attempting to show how important these platforms can be in reducing cliff erosion.

Up until now, a sea wall has been seen as the most effective form of defence. But Dr Williams believes that "very probably, the sea wall will unfortunately result in an increase erosion of the platform, and in the long term may make the problem worse. It’s a question of robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Using a state-of-the-art portable laser scanner, Dr Williams and his international team will be probing the Seven Sisters cliffs to determine the way erosion rates relate to the size of the protective intertidal platform. The laser scanner, which has never been used for this sort of research before, "can take over 100,000 readings in an hour, and is a great improvement on the cumbersome erosion meter technique which has been used up until now," says Dr Williams.

In recent times it has become clear that sea defences have only been effective for a limited time before they have had to be rebuilt. This is often because the rocky shore platform which forms their foundation has been eroded from around and beneath them. "We’ve all been concerned with protecting the bottom of the cliff, but the short term gain may make the problem worse in the long term," says Dr Williams. He is attempting to get away from the ‘quick fix’ cash injection approach and contribute scientific knowledge which will instead enable a more long term solution. Through his research, smaller amounts of money may be used to combat the problem by protecting or building up the intertidal platforms, for example. By plugging the information gap, he may well save the Sussex coastline.

For further information please contact Sally Hall, Information Office, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 678335, email s.l.hall@sussex.ac.uk, or Dr Rendel Williams, School of Chemistry, Physics and Environmental Science, Tel. 01273 877190, Fax 01273 677196.

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