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Stormy Geomorphology Making Waves

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c.skinner@hull.ac.uk's picture

Are our coasts more vulnerable to storms than we think?

Geomorphology science examines both slow, incremental changes to the landscape (> 100s of years) and rapid changes (days to weeks) in response to extreme events. However, there is a common perception that some landscapes, such as rock coasts, change very slowly. In fact, these systems are changing both incrementally and rapidly – preparing surfaces for erosion by extreme events, such as was measured on a rocky coast in response to an extreme storm. The present predictions of climate change suggest that these events will become more common, and the British Society for Geomorphology established the Stormy Geomorphology to compile a global-state-of-the-art synthesis of research in this area. A special issue of Earth Surface Processes and Landforms is forthcoming.

Dr Larissa Naylor is a Lecturer at the University of Glasgow and co-chairs the Stormy Geomorphology working group. Her own research features in the special issue, where she captured the first dataset globally monitoring boulder and erosion dynamics immediately prior to, during and immediately after a storm. The research showed how extreme weather events erode rocky coastlines – and that these systems can indeed change rapidly. Large boulders (heavier than a washing machine) were flipped by extreme waves, and shoebox sized boulders were recorded as moving up to 50 metres in a single day.

Stormy Cliff.png

"Contrary to popular assumptions, rock coasts do erode quickly," Larissa explained, highlighting the implications of her research which was carried out in March 2008, the time of a powerful storm named Johanna. "Coastal boulders are transported tens of metres ... Other boulders were broken into smaller pieces and the rock bed was ripped apart, creating new boulders".

The research suggests that storms along rock coasts have the potential to break down rocks and boulders, and transport this coarse material elsewhere around coasts. Currently it is unknown how this might influence erosion and flood risks in this area, but with current climate predictions suggesting more, and more intense storms, our rocky coastline might be more vulnerable than we have realised. This work shows the fundamental role geomorphology science can play in understanding these systems to aid coastal managers.

The full Press Release from the Univeristy of Glasgow can be seen here. For general media enquiries regarding Geomorphology, please contact [email protected]

This story has been catching the attention of the media, having featured in the Scotsman, Phys.orgBBC Devon and BBC Cornwall.

Link to full paper - http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/esp.3900/abstract