Protecting coastal communities and habitats

Dynamic coastal environments. Click to enlarge.
What challenges do waterfront communities and habitats face from environmental change?
How can these challenges be met in a sustainable manner?

The Thames estuary provides a focal point for waterfront development and supports many unique and internationally significant habitats for wildlife. These communities and habitats face particular threats from environmental change, including sea-level rise, flooding and storms as well as diminishing sediment quality due to sustained urban and industrial pollution. The BGS has developed a methodology to help track human-induced environmental change over time in coastal and fluvial systems.

One of the major challenges in evaluating and managing sediment quality in the Thames Basin is understanding how pollution spreads through the basin and locating its source. Historical contamination hot spots are usually observed in the deeper sediment layers, thus a key question is will these contaminated sediments layers be uncovered and transported as the impacts of climate change such as sea-level rise, increased storminess and flooding become more frequent.

Implications for planning

Understanding the economic and environmental implications for planning to adapt to and mitigate these risks, including coastal defence and managed retreat, will also require a geological consideration both in terms of the construction materials required and the potential for resource sterilisation.

An integrated study has the potential to consider how this may impact on the broader region as demand for resources in the Thames basin imposes pressure on other regions. This wider perspective has the potential to improve policy at a national level.

More questions that may need to be answered:

  • How will sea level rise affect coastal erosion, coastal landslide triggering and coastal inundation?
  • What is the effect of sea level rise on contaminant remobilisation in coastal cities?
  • Greater Thames will be a key area for future development of tidal energy (potentially via the Thames barrier replacement) and offshore wind energy. What options exist, and how will they interact with the natural environment?
  • Offshore sandbanks are an integral part of the coastal system, nowhere more so than the Greater Thames estuary. They act as sinks and stores of sediment and play an important role in constraining wave energy at the coast. How will seas level rise impact upon the effectiveness of sandbanks in reducing wave energy?
  • How can climate change models (temperature and precipitation) be used to inform and model the fundamental processes and impacts of climate change and flooding on the urban earth system, especially in coastal towns and cities?
  • What will be the physical response of the coastline to sea level rise and an increase in storm surge events?
  • What are the wider environmental, social and economic implications for minerals resourcing for coastal defence? How does mineral extraction and transport affect the Thames basin and the wider region?

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