Coastal erosion of the Holderness to Spurn Head coast

Coastal geologists at BGS are studying the Holderness to Spurn Head coast to understand how this may respond to climate change.

Why study coastal erosion?

BGS research of the Holderness to Spurn Head Coast

The Holderness–Spurn Head coast is one of the most dynamic stretches of coastline in the UK. The soft glacial geology is subject to erosion and the average rate of cliff recession here is 1 to 2 metres per year.

We need to understand and measure the current system to be able to predict the way this section of coast will respond to future changes in climate. What influence does a storm have on the coastline? How much does the beach protect the cliffs? Do particular types of landslides form in these cliffs? If sea-level rises, what effect will it have?

The coastal team carry out Terrestrial LiDAR and beach profile surveys. The Terrestrial LiDAR surveys measure the change of the cliffs. The beach profile surveys measure the change in beach elevation using differential GPS.

There are five parts to this project:

  1. Aldbrough survey
  2. Dimlington Ords — beach morphology and erosion
  3. Easington Lagoons
  4. Spu barrier bar
  5. Storm event survey

Terrestrial LiDAR and beach profile surveys are carried out at all four sites (1–4 above) each year and an additional survey is carried out after a storm.

Aldbrough survey


This survey compliments the ongoing landslide research at this site and adds information about the beach and platform. This research measures the rate of cliff recession and will add to our understanding of the role the beach and platform play in protecting the cliff.

Dimlington Ords

Terrestrial LiDAR data

It is thought that there is a strong link between beach morphology and cliff erosion. This research explores the relationship between beach features known as 'ords' and erosion of the cliff.

An ord is a local name for a thin veneer of beach sediment over an area of exposed till shore platform. It is thought that erosion of the coast is focused immediately behind the ords and that as the ords migrate southwards as sediment is transported along the coast, these zones of focused erosion move with them. This research attempts to measure this.

Easington Lagoons

Easington Lagoons are separated from the sea by a barrier bar (a mobile body of sand and gravel, which is part of a barrier beach). The research at this site studies the link between the sediment supply from the cliffs to the north of the lagoons and the movement of the barrier bar.

Easington lagoon panorama

Spu barrier bar

Spu barrier bar

Terrestrial LiDAR and beach profile surveys are carried out at Spu to attempt to measure the interaction between the platform, beach and the barrier (Spurn Head).

Storm event survey

This research aims to look at the effects of storms on coastal erosion. The team will carry out a survey at all the sites listed above to measure the impact of current storm events. They will then carry out another survey two weeks later to measure the recovery of each site.

Why study coastal erosion?

On fast-retreating coasts, such as the Holderness Coast, it is important to appreciate more than just the position of the cliff face. The entire system of coastal erosion is highly complex and several aspects must be considered. These include the onshore environment, the offshore environment, the weather and climate, the strength and variability of the geological materials making up the coast and the influence of engineered structures such as groynes and sea walls.

Understanding the influence that the offshore environment has on coastal erosion is essential when attempting to accurately model future recession rates. This includes oceanographic climate, wave energy and wave direction, the distribution of sediments moved by wave action and changing sea level.


Contact Dr Christopher Vane for more information.