Waves hit the promenade at Penzance in October 2019 (Picture by Lloyd Russell)
Scientists are looking to combine weather and wave data with the latest digital and AI technologies to develop a more accurate way of forecasting coastal flooding.
The SPLASH: digital approaches to predict wave hazards initiative aims to build a coastal overtopping warning tool that can be deployed at locations along the UK coastline.
To develop it, researchers will analyse new and existing earth observation data to better understand how processes such as winds, tides, coastal sheltering, and waves interact across a coastal area.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms will also be trained to predict potential changes in the wave overtopping hazard across regions of the coastline, and the risk any flooding incidents might pose to life, property and infrastructure.
This will ultimately result in the creation of a digital twin of wave overtopping, in which machine learning has been applied to produce a warning tool using model predictions of wind, waves and water level.
The SPLASH project is being led by Dr Nieves Valiente and colleagues Dr Christopher Stokes and Dr Timothy Poate at the University of Plymouth, working alongside researchers from the National Oceanographic Centre (NOC).
With sea level rise accelerating and coastal populations increasing, the researchers say the need for accurate tools to predict natural hazards and mitigate damage to infrastructure, property and human life has never been more urgent.

There are currently a number of ways to attempt to forecast coastal flooding, but doing so in an accurate and timely way is incredibly challenging. By using measurements of wave overtopping alongside national monitoring networks, we aim to develop an environmental digital twin that can be deployable in different hotspots across the UK. We ultimately hope it will improve operational hazard management and increase the UK coastline’s resilience to natural hazards.

Nieves ValienteNieves Valiente
Lecturer in Marine Science (Coastal Processes)

The SPLASH project will continue more than two decades of research by the University’s Coastal Processes Research Group (CPRG) to better understand the threats posed to coastal communities across the world by extreme storms and rising sea levels.
As part of the new research, they will analyse existing data from sites such as Dawlish in Devon and Penzance in Cornwall.
The forecasting tool, once developed, will then be tested in other wave hazard hotspot locations along the UK coastline – such as Chesil Beach in Dorset – where there are CCTV cameras or webcams installed.
It is ultimately envisaged that the programme will enhance decision making among coastal practitioners, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change in already vulnerable locations.
The SPLASH project is being funded through a grant of £300,000 from the Twinning Capability for the Natural Environment (TWINE) programme, designed to harness the potential of digital twinning technology to transform environmental science.
It is one of five projects awarded a share of £2.8 million in funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation, in partnership with the Met Office.
The digital twin pilot projects will demonstrate how research using Earth Observation data and emerging digital twinning technologies can transform environmental science across priority areas including climate change, biodiversity and ecosystems, and natural hazards.

Developing digital twins for environmental science is important to improve our ability to anticipate and respond to crises including in climate change, biodiversity and future weather events. These projects will bring together multidisciplinary teams to realise the value of digital twinning technology. It is excellent to form a partnership with the Met Office to address this research challenge and ensure that the UK reaches its potential in this area.

Professor Peter Liss
Interim Executive Chair of NERC 

Coastal Processes Research Group 

The Coastal Processes Research Group is an internationally recognised group of researchers, specialising in field studies of coastal processes and seeking to understand and predict the behaviour of coastal and estuarine systems. Research topics include:
  • beach morphodynamics and nearshore sediment transport
  • coastal erosion and storm impacts
  • video monitoring of coastal systems
  • coastal process modelling
  • estuarine processes and evolution.
The group operates a research-informed consultancy Coastal Marine Applied Research.
Coastal Processes Research Group Perranporth beach