Robert Nicholls, CESER director Richard Dawson, and Sophie Day launch a new book, Broad Scale Coastal Simulation: New Techniques to Understand and Manage Shorelines in the Third Millennium, that reports in full, for the first time, on the Tyndall Coastal Simulator.
Coastal scientists, engineers and policy makers around the world are increasingly recognising the challenge of sustainable coastal management in the third millennium. Long-term geomorphological, climatic and socio-economic changes are influencing coastal systems at unprecedented spatial scales and over extended timeframes – with profound implications for people, coastal infrastructure and settlements, biodiversity, ecosystem services and governance of the coastal zone. Coastal researchers and decision-makers are presently ill-equipped to deal with the problems emerging from multiple drivers of change across multiple coastal sectors. This reflects that the coast is a linked system, and any change in one area or sector may influence the impacts for other areas or sectors.
An integrated systems based approach that seeks to represent the interactions between different issues within the coastal zone is fundamental to understanding the impact of global change on coastlines and to assist the sustainable management of our shorelines over the twenty-first century. In 2000, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, an interdisciplinary consortium of engineers, scientists and social scientists, was established in the UK. This provided a unique platform to develop a coastal research programme with a major focus on an integrated assessment – known as the Tyndall Coastal Simulator. An earlier synthesis paper from this research by Dawson et al. (2009) won the Lloyd’s Science of Risk Research Prize for Climate Change in 2012.
Unlike other coastal books, this his book is not a handbook for design, nor is it a compendium of methods that cover every aspect of coastal systems or a compilation of case studies with differing aims. Rather it is a perspective on integrated assessment as applied to coastal problems, which represents a topic where there is an important gap in the literature. Whilst each chapter can be read in isolation, each chapter also contributes to the wider integrated assessment. Throughout the book, the process of integrating information on the different environmental, social and economic dimensions of coastal management.
Taking a systems perspective of the natural, physical and social environment at a scale that is relevant to livelihoods and the economy has enabled the Tyndall Centre tea to analyse how the coastal system as a whole might evolve in a changing physical and socioeconomic environment. The application of the Tyndall Coastal Simulator to North Norfolk, UK, demonstrates that it is now feasible to explore long-term integrated projections of coastal processes such as geomorphology, flood risk and land use change, greatly increasing the evidence base available for coastal management decisions. Moreover, the methods and integrated assessment framework are transferable to other coastal areas.
The integrated assessment highlights a number of the opportunities, challenges and trade-offs and the need for a long-term perspective on coastal policy in order to allow adaptation to coastal change to occur, for example, the difficulties faced by coastal managers, who in reducing the risk of erosion may actually enhance flood risk (or the cost and viability of mitigating this risk) at sites within the same coastal system. Such results were captured within the Tyndall Coastal Simulator interface allowing the technical results to be accessible to a wide range of stakeholders.
It is now clear that the management of any coastline and the governance structures upon which that management depends need to reflect the connectivity between the various coastal features that comprise the natural and human coastal system and consequential trade-offs in management policy. Furthermore, the Norfolk analysis relates the technical aspects of coastal change to the present, and often emotive, debate around long-term shoreline management – in particular it strengthens the argument for a change in the widespread historic management approach of increasing lengths of “hold the line” towards allowing as much of the coastline as possible to return to a more natural and dynamic configuration, including the associated sediment supply from eroding coasts. Inevitably, this raises a number of fundamental questions from stakeholders, which we have explored through using results from the Tyndall Coastal Simulator, about how to address the concerns of directly and indirectly affected landowners and householders to facilitate this fundamental change in management approach.
More generally, the book shows the great potential for coastal stakeholders to develop improved understanding of coastal futures and for decisions to be based on a stronger evidence base. However, the work exposed the magnitude of many uncertainties about coastal futures. Although the broadscale coastal simulation of the type presented here can provide a rich evidence base, in the context of adaptation it should be regularly reassessed, debated and reviewed as part of an ongoing process to reflect improving knowledge and changing priorities. Thus, the Tyndall Coastal Simulator and tools like it have the potential to provide a platform for the longer-term adaptation process.