BGS blogs

Sea level rise and coastal erosion: what’s the real impact?

How much of an issue are coastal vulnerabilities and what do we need to consider to increase our resilience to future events?


In this new series of blogs, the digital products team looks at the coastline of Great Britain, how it is changing and what important factors we should consider in terms of natural hazards, adaptation and resilience.

Coastal resilience is a key issue for our island nation, especially those who live and work around our coastline. The climate is changing, temperatures are increasing and sea-levels are set to rise. In recent years, we have witnessed numerous examples of coastal flooding, cliff falls and damage to infrastructure, businesses and homes during storms. But how much of an issue are these coastal vulnerabilities and what do we need to consider to increase our resilience to future events?

It is difficult to quantify the threat and potential economic impact of coastal erosion and flooding. The Climate Change Committee’s Adaptation Committee estimated in 2018 that, by the 2080s, over 100 000 properties may be in areas at risk from coastal erosion in England alone.

Various reports have been commissioned over recent years to assist in building a clearer picture of the situation and options to reduce this risk. The UK Government’s latest research on exploratory sea-level projections for the UK provides future projection ranges to the year 2300. Under all scenarios, sea level is expected to continue to rise. Estimates range across (approximately):

  • 0.5 m to 2.2 m for low (RCP2.6) emissions
  • 0.8 m to 2.6 m for medium-low (RCP4.5) emissions
  • 1.4 m to 4.3 m for high (RCP8.5) emissions

To provide some context relating to the societal importance of our coastal regions, aside from their natural significance, we can consider some of the findings of a 2019 report by a Select Committee appointed through the House of Lords. This group and the subsequent report had been set up to focus on the regeneration of seaside towns and communities, which included a review of tourism and hospitality. Based on this report and the associated proceedings, the following numbers can be ascribed to our coastal regions:

In the UK, current annual damages from coastal flooding are estimated at over £500 million per year (BAS) and costs are likely to increase under projections of future sea-level rise. Historic assets are also under threat: buried archaeology and historic structures, such as the Godwin Battery on Spurn Point, have already been lost to coastal erosion. The National Trust’s repair bill following the 2013/14 winter storms amounted to some £250 000, with other repairs costing many thousands of pounds.  

Our new GeoCoast data product can be used to inform and assist users when responding to coastal adaptation and resilience. GeoCoast is an integrated GIS package of datasets designed to inform and support coastal management and adaptation. It includes information about coastal erosion, sea-level rise and inundation, coastal subsidence and the properties of the geological deposits.

Our next post in this series will look at six areas of changing coastlines around Great Britain and how climate change could affect them.

Join us for our GeoCoast launch event

Join our data products team for a live webinar on the 28 April 2022, and discover more about our new data product to underpin coastal decision making, resilience and adaptation. > Register online

About the author

Kathryn Lee

Geologist; Informatics Product Portfolio Manager

BGS Keyworth
Find out more

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