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Understanding large-scale coastal morphology

Understanding large-scale coastal morphology

The better understanding and prediction of geomorphological processes that govern the long-term natural and/or human induced changes at the coastal zone lies at the centre of this project. Much of the low-lying coastline of European countries bordering the North Sea is formed from unconsolidated sediments, readily modified by tidal circulatory patterns and wave action. Furthermore, the shallow nature of the Southern North Sea allows for the development of long-distance (several hundreds of kilometres) sediment transport pathways that may link the coastal evolution of several European states.

It has been speculated that some large-scale (km scale) nearshore sedimentary features, the nesses, of the UK East Coast are inextricably linked to offshore tidal sand banks and thus to the regional sediment transport on the shores of the southern North Sea as a whole (ABP Research & Consultancy Ltd. and University of Southampton, 1996). The highly dynamic nature of these nesses has led to the migration of large amounts of sediment alongshore and resulted in changes of beach width of >100 m over time-spans of less than 40 years (Robinson, 1980). Coastal managers are thus faced with the challenge to understand the link between the dynamics of the nesses and sediment transport on a larger scale within the Southern North Sea. Furthermore, the ability to predict the morphological evolution of such features is required if direct and indirect coastal management problems linked to the movement of nesses (such as the disappearance of protective beaches or the silting up of shipping approaches / harbour channels) are to be anticipated.

The successful coastal management of sedimentary shorelines is only possible if the maximum amount of morphodynamic information is extracted from existing data. Since the early 1990s, new datasets have become available that provide scope for an in-depth study of the annual to decadal dynamics of the ness features of the UK east coast. In addition, new digital methods for the analysis of spatial data (such as digital photogrammetry) have become available and can be linked to these datasets to enable scientists to extract additional morphodynamic information, including information on sediment volumes. By harnessing these new datasets and analytical tools, previous theories of ness evolution can be reviewed and extended. This research assess the use of digital photogrammetry as an analytical tool for the study of the dynamics of large-scale coastal features such as the East Anglian nesses (in particular, its use for determining changes in sediment volume (i.e. sediment budgets), as well as reviewing existing theories of ness evolution in the light of newly available morphological data; and developing alternative tools (computer visualisation/animation) for use by coastal managers to assess morphological change of large-scale features (Kroon et al. (2008)).

Image as described adjacent

Figure: Inter-annual elevation changes for the period 1998 to 2001, calculated from DEMs constructed from aerial photographs.


  • Kroon, A., Larson, M., Möller, I., Yokoki, H., Rozynski, G., Cox, J., Larroude, P. (2008) Statistical analysis of coastal morphological data sets over seasonal to decadal time scales. Coastal Engineering. (in press: doi:10.1016/j.coastaleng.2007.11.006)
  • Kroon, A., Larson, M., Möller, I., Yokoki, H., Rozynski, G., Cox, J., and Larroude, P. (in review) 'Statistical analysis of long-term morphological data sets from coastal areas'.
  • Southgate, H.N. and Möller, I. (2000) 'Fractal properties of beach profile evolution at Duck, North Carolina'. Journal of Geophysical Research 105(C5), 11,489-11507.
  • Smith, G.M., Spencer, T., and Möller, I. (2000) Visualization of Coastal Dynamics: Scolt Head Island, North Norfolk, England. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 50, 137-142.


The following people in the Department are involved:


The project was carried out as part of the EU 'HUMOR' project, led by the University of Granada, Spain


The project obtained funding as part of the EU HUMOR ('Human interaction with large scale coastal morphological evolution') project (EVK3-CT-2000-00037)).