Defined by a coastline 11,000 miles long, Great Britain has a panoramic, doorstep perspective of some of the issues associated with global climate change and rising sea levels. As the storms of this winter have shown, this can make for some uncomfortable viewing.
Working to understand the forces at play within the coastal zone - and the impact and potential cost to society from increased storms and floods - are scores of researchers at Plymouth University. Chief among them is Associate Professor Mark Davidson, from the Coastal Processes Research Group (CPRG), who has pioneered the use of video cameras to efficiently monitor and understand changes to the seafront over time, and provide valuable information to those who manage the coastal environment.
“The impact of rising sea levels and wave heights are global and far reaching,” Mark said. “And for Britain, and especially here in the South West, it’s important to predict how the coastline will respond to changing conditions, such as the increased storminess we’ve been experiencing. Thanks to video technology, we’re evolving the capacity to predict changes in the shoreline position over a period of decades, which is revolutionary in coastal sciences.”
The first camera to be installed in the UK was at Perranporth beach in 1996, and it’s provided Plymouth with unique measurements of coastal change along the 4km wide natural beach and the forces that have shaped one of Europe’s strongest macrotidal regions (a 7.5m vertical difference in water level between high and low tide). Further cameras have been mounted at beaches across the country, all of them networked to computers at Plymouth, which download the combination of stills and time-lapse photography on an hourly basis.
The cameras simultaneously measure the coastal change alongside the waves that are responsible for this change, and the results are capable of showing, in fine detail, areas of coastal erosion and accretion. They can even pick out rip currents, enabling researchers to “conduct a thorough and robust beach survey without getting their feet wet”, according to Mark.