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School of Geography

River Basin Processes and Management Projects

Coastline dynamics in an increasingly stormy world

PI: Katherine Selby (University of York)

Co-I: Graeme Swindles (University of Leeds), Clare Woulds (University of Leeds), Mark Bateman (University of Sheffield)

Overview: A major impact of climate change is global sea-level rise and increased storminess which will impact on coastlines, coastal ecosystems and threaten coastal societies. A poleward shift in storm tracks and increased storminess in the Atlantic-European sector in the 1990s (linked to a positive phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation) has already been reported and it is hypothesised that climate change will lead to a shifting of storm tracks and increased intensity and frequency of storms in the future.

Increased storminess has occurred in the past and these changes are recorded within coastal landforms, notably dunefields. For example, there is historical evidence that coastal dunefields were active around 500 years ago due to increased North Sea storminess, while storms in 2005 that affected the Western Isles provide recent evidence of these effects.

The aims of the project are to investigate how storminess has affected coastal areas by integrating field and documentary evidence, and independent climate proxy data. As outputs, the project will:-

  • Produce geo-referenced maps that can be related to storminess.
  • Examine societal responses to these changes e.g. abandonment of archaeological sites.
  • Combine the data to inform how present and future changes may affect coastal areas, using stakeholder input.

A desk-based study, focussing on old maps, historical records, archaeological data, LiDAR Coastal Zone Assessment Surveys and pre-existing climate model simulations for the mid-Holocene until present will be undertaken. Fieldwork in critically sensitive areas (such as the dunefields on the Atlantic coast of Portugal, west coast of Ireland and NE English coastline will involve coring, sample collection and surveying. Laboratory analyses will include diatom and foraminifera to inform about sea-level and coastal changes, quartz size analysis as a proxy for storminess, and luminescence, and amino acid racemisation (AAR) to establish chronologies.

The effects of extreme events along the coast associated with climate change are a key focus of climate predictions due to the potential impact on ecosystems, economies and human use of these areas.  Providing a long-term context for these changes allows data to be generated that can be used to correctly manage low-lying coastal areas. Using the past to establish the effects of storms on coastal areas is a vital and informative technique to understand the likely outcomes of global climate change on our present coastline and societies. This is only possible with high quality data from the past which is currently lacking. Outputs from this project will be used to inform at relevant scales that will be useful to society.

Start date: 1 October 2012

End date: 30 September 2013

Funder: White Rose University Consortium Collaboration Fund

Details: or contact g.t.swindles(at)