Predicting coastal erosion and flooding in changing climate times

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Europe is currently recovering from some of the worst storms and flooding in decades.

As the climate changes, sea levels rise and storm patterns become stronger and less predictable.

Climate experts believe this is likely to lead to an increase in coastal erosion.

Researchers at the University of Plymouth in south-west England have been monitoring the changes to beaches and cliffs along Cornwall’s coastline for three years.

They say the more we know about the effects and changes caused by storms, the better prepared we can be next time.

“We want to understand under what conditions – under what waves, under what tides – these structures are able to withstand the waves or under what conditions they flood and fail,” said coastal geomorphology professor Gerd Masselink. “And if you know that, then you have a tool that you can predict the chances of coastal flooding as a result of these extreme storms.”

On average, researchers say, this coastline retreats by 20 to 30 centimetres a year. But this year they are expecting to lose between two and three metres.

To better predict the risk of coastal flooding, they are using state-of-the-art equipment like acoustic devices and thermal cameras.

Their goal is to record every little change during and after each storm.

Coastal researcher Claire Earlier showed off one piece of kit they use: “This is a terrestrial laser scanner and we use this to scan the cliffs. It has a rotating laser that comes out and spins around and it actually scans the surface of the cliff.”

Researchers hope the results of their study will help make informed decisions about where to avoid building new homes or major infrastructure like roads and railways in the future.

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