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  • 23 July 2008

Research looks to future of English Channel beaches


Beach replenishment - the answer to coastal erosion?

Beach replenishment - the answer to coastal erosion?

Researchers at the University of Sussex studying coastal erosion between Brighton and Whitstable have estimated that some shingle beaches in the region's low-lying areas will be significantly reduced in 50 years unless they are artificially replenished.

The discovery comes from the recently completed and EU-funded project "Beaches At Risk" (BAR).

Shingle beaches predominate along the eastern Channel but unlike sand beaches, they are poorly understood, yet vital in protecting low-lying land from storm, flood and wave damage. Predicted sea-level rises, restricted supplies of fresh sediments because of cliff protection and unexpectedly large rates of pebble abrasion present potential problems for land protected by shingle beaches on the Eastern Channel coasts.

The five-year study, led by physical geographer Dr Cherith Moses (University of Sussex), has investigated beach sustainability on the eastern Channel coasts of East Sussex and Kent. The research has also examined the region's chalk cliffs and chalk shore platforms.

Research partners included East Sussex County Council, Kent Wildlife Trust and French universities investigating the French Channel coast.

The findings include:

  • High water levels in the Eastern Channel are increasing faster than low water levels, so over the next 50 years beaches will have to be both higher and wider to provide protection against erosion and flooding;
  • Extreme sea levels, linked to global sea level rise and local storm surges, are predicted to rise to higher levels over the coming 50 years. Statistical tests indicate that the risk of flooding on the Eastern Channel coast may be less than for areas to the west;
  • Cliff retreat rates, between Brighton and Beachy Head in East Sussex, have actually decreased over the last 130 years, but this means that less material is being added naturally to the beaches;
  • Pebbles on beaches are not as durable as previously thought - the annual weight loss of shingle pebbles moved around by waves is almost 2%, which is unexpectedly high and may reduce beach volumes significantly over the next 50 years;
  • Erosion and lowering of chalk shore platforms, which front the region's cliffs and on which the beaches rest, is greater next to coastal defence structures such as sea walls and concrete groynes. This undermines the foundations and shortens the lifespan of such structures.

Dr Moses says: "The results are directly informing the decisions made by those who manage our local coastlines on a day-to-day basis."

The BAR team is developing a computer 'toolbox' based on a geographical information system (GIS) that will help local authority planners and environmental agencies assess the risks associated with beach erosion and its management in vulnerable areas.

Dr Moses says: "Changes in beach volumes could have important economic, social and environmental consequences for the region. Shingle beaches erode continually and already almost half the beaches on the Sussex and Kent coastline have been artificially replenished to maintain adequate volumes for coastal protection. This may be a short-term fix that becomes less cost-effective over time."

Dr Moses says: "There are, however, still many 'unknowns' when it comes to the management of shingle beaches, chalk cliffs and chalk shore platforms, in particular how they respond to storms, so funding for further research is vital."

Notes for editors

The "Beaches At Risk" project (BAR; part funded by the European Regional Development Fund, INTERREG IIIA program) began in 2003 and has been led by Dr Cherith Moses and a team of researchers from the Department of Geography at the University of Sussex. The project also has brought together a panel of researchers and coastal managers from the Université du Littoral Côte d'Opale, the Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, the Université de Rouen, the "Laboratoire de Géographie Physique" du CNRS (Meudon, France), ABP Marine Environmental Research Ltd. (Southampton, England), East Sussex County Council, Kent Wildlife Trust, and the "Syndicat Mixte pour l'Aménagement de la Côte Picarde (SMACOPI).

 

The project scientists continue to work on specific research questions that have been raised by the work of the BAR project, but BAR funding has now come to an end.

 

A range of public information leaflets and educational materials were produced by the project. For further details, see: http://www.geog.sussex.ac.uk/BAR/

 

For interviews, images etc, please contact the University of Sussex Press office.

 

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email press@sussex.ac.uk

 

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