An international team of scientists which included 10 researchers from The University of Western Australia has found that by using ‘space and time scales’ in coastal modelling, authorities may be able to predict the future of our coastline and better manage it.
Space and time scales look at the impact of forces on the coastline from different weather events over time (time scale) across a variety of locations (space scale). Currently, coastal sediment transport modelling is used to measure coastal impact. However, determining how best to combine the different space and time scales is complex.
Globally, coastal areas have the largest and fastest-growing human population, and are regions where infrastructure and economic activities are concentrated.
The coast can be a hazardous place, due to factors such as erosion and flooding, which may be exacerbated by rising sea level and ‘coastal squeeze’ (when development occurs close to the shoreline).
The team identified that it was challenging to analyse information relating to coastal changes, but recommended that by using space and time scales, the impact to coastlines in the future could be better predicted.
UWA Professor of Coastal Oceanography Charitha Pattiaratchi, a co-author of the paper, said even small weather events such as a storm on a beach could have a significant impact on the coastline.
“For example, in our study we measured the impact of just one storm that occurred in Yanchep in 2011,” Professor Pattiaratchi said.
“The impact to the coastline from just this one event was significant - it eroded significant metres of shoreline, including five metres vertically from the dune system. The impact of such events is influenced by recovery time scales which vary depending on location.
“If we had space and time scales that were able to look at hundreds of these events and coastline impacts over time, we would be able to map out potential areas of coastline impact into the future and this could give us insight into how the coastline maybe affected in years to come.”
Dr Shari Gallop, the lead author of the paper from Macquarie University (and formerly from UWA) said that often, measurements of coastal sediment transport processes were restricted to a few locations on a section of coast, and may be infrequent in time and too short a time-span of only a few days.
“Sometimes, we may only have measurements during certain conditions such as a storm, or calm conditions, but coastal management needs to consider longer-term changes as a result of all conditions,” she said.
The research has been published in Frontiers in Marine Science — Coastal Ocean Processes