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'Sand-engine' proposed to protect against coastal erosion

30 October 2015

The UK’s first investigation into the use of beach widening to reduce coastal flooding and erosion is being led by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC).

Image: Shutterstock

The NOC's Dr Jenny Brown, who is leading this project in collaboration with the University of Liverpool, says rising sea levels and the expansion of built up areas around the coast is causing beaches to become ‘squeezed’ into thinner strips. "By assessing the possibility of protecting coastlines using wider beaches, our aim is to help coastal authorities better understand the changing vulnerability of more natural approaches to coastal defence.”

It is thought that wider beaches could reduce the impact of waves on costal defences by causing them to break further offshore, in addition to offering protection from erosion. The Dutch refer to this method as the ‘Zandmotor’, or ‘sand-engine’, and have been using it since 2011.

To investigate whether this method could effectively be used in the UK, this project is using computer models to simulate how waves and currents move beach sediment along the Dungeness coastline, in Kent, over a decade.

“We’ve worked closely with the Crown Estate in developing their ‘Sand-scaping’ approach to reducing coastal erosion and flood risk through large-scale beach feeding," adds the University of Liverpool's Professor Andy Plater. "This offers additional benefits in terms of habitat creation and environments that may provide a catalyst for economic development. This strategic thinking is a necessary step to increasing the resilience of our coastal settlement and industry to storms and sea-level rise.”

This project forms part of the NOC’s ongoing research into coastal flooding. Other partners included the British Geological Survey, Crown Estate, the Cardigan Bay Coastal Group, Royal Haskoning DHV, the Environment Agency, Natural England and National Grid.

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