Coastal erosion in the UK: science, risk and policy

This project is available from the academic year 2024/25 onwards.

Theme: Earth, Atmosphere & Ocean Processes

Primary Supervisor:

Andrew Russell

School of Geography, QMUL

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Secondary Supervisor:

James Porter

Department of Geography, KCL

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Project Description:

Coastal communities, infrastructure, and natural environments face an uncertain and unsustainable future as the risk of erosion increase. By 2080, 210,000 properties in England could be at risk of being lost to coastal erosion (Committee on Climate Change, 2018). This is a huge increase on the number of properties currently at risk but how confident can we be in these figures?

A major challenge here is that datasets are based on irregular historic sampling, incomplete understanding of processes, they fail to utilise the latest climate change projections and data are hard to access and use. This means the true scale of the UK’s exposure could be much higher than currently predicted and that our policy responses are weak.

To develop adequate adaptation plans, both the scientific and political problems with coastal erosion must be addressed. Scientifically, a more reliable and robust method is needed to calculate the risks. Politically, weak decision processes for managing coastal erosion must be revised, as property losses due to erosion are usually not covered by building insurance, coastal properties can be purchased without an erosion risk assessment, and coastal areas are home to vulnerable communities.

This project brings together climate science, data modelling and policy analysis:

1. Develop a new, critical, assessment of the current science underpinning coastal erosion projections;
2. Use novel technique (e.g. Bayesian networks, remote sensing) to model how coastal erosion risk changes across different spatial and temporal scales;
3. Co-produce policy recommendations for the scientific and political problems uncovered.

Policy Impact of Research:

We will work alongside the Environment Agency for all the project aims as they are responsible for coastal erosion assessments in England. In addition, erosion risks are relevant to Defra, local authorities, insurers, local communities and CCC. Therefore, there are multiple routes to ensure that this project has impact.

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