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News archive

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# JY Buchanan, Geography and Oceanography

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the confirmed presence of manganese nodules on the deep ocean floor. The first person to give a formal lecture in Geography at Cambridge University, the Scottish chemist and hydrographer JY Buchanan, was central to this discovery. The birth of oceanography is generally taken to be the 3.5 year circumnavigation of HMS Challenger, 1872-1876. On 7 March 1873, the Challenger's Chief Scientist, Wyville Thomson, reported that a deepwater haul in the Western Atlantic had revealed 'a number of very peculiar black oval bodies about an inch long … when handing over a portion … to Mr. Buchanan for examination, he found that it consisted of almost pure peroxide of manganese.' Following his lecture in October 1889, Buchanan's career in Geography was not a success (he resigned in late 1893), quite unlike his earlier, stellar career in pioneering oceanography.

# Three Men on a Reef

Special Collections, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Using a one hundred year old photograph found in the archives of the Royal Society in London, Tom Spencer has been able to show that this image forms part of the record of early discussions on modern coral reef science, instigated around the Second Pan-Pacific Science Congress held in Melbourne and Sydney in August/September 1923.

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# Learning from the Great Tide

Van Veen, J. 1962 Dredge, drain, reclaim, 5th edn. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,

On the exact 70th anniversary of the catastrophic 1953 storm surge along the east coast of England, listen to Tom Spencer, Emeritus Professor of Coastal Dynamics, Department of Geography talk about the governmental response at the time, the challenges for the management of low-lying coasts now, and the work of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit in a BBC Radio 4 programme, Seriously... Learning from the Great Tide.

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# 100 years of Australian Coral Reef Science; the Cambridge Connections

Photo: C. Maurice Yonge (by permission, National Library of Australia PIC/11204/332)

100 years of Australian coral reef science was celebrated at a special centenary meeting of the Australian Coral Reef Society in Brisbane, Australia, 25-27 November 2022. The Cambridge Coastal Research Unit's Tom Spencer gave the opening keynote address 'The Great Barrier Reef Committee and the making of modern coral reef science' at the Queensland Museum.

Tom showed how early Anglo-Australian collaborations led to the 1928-29 Great Barrier Reef Expedition (leader: Maurice Yonge, Zoology Cambridge; Head of Geographical Section: Alfred Steers, Geography, Cambridge). The Expedition's emphasis on the relationships between reef growth and environment, and the critical importance of their study in the field, effectively set the template for much of modern coral reef science. An accompanying Museum exhibition included the original Expedition dive helmet, used for some of the earliest studies of the variation of coral growth with water depth.

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# Flood risk futures and a new modelling tool

Most coastal flood risk assessments are over-simplified and only a small number of possible scenarios are considered – not enough to build in the uncertainties of the climate changes we face. Now a new digital tool, developed by the Department's Cambridge Coastal Research Unit with researchers at the consulting engineers Arup and the National Oceanography Centre, allows the consideration of the economic impact of tens of thousands of potential scenarios of rising seas and mitigation activities. Applied to flood risk in the city of Hull, UK east coast, it's the first time the full scope of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sea-level rise projections can be seen in an interactive way.

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# Britain is crumbling into the sea – but does it matter?

"Sea level rise is a massive inter-generational problem: our children and our grandchildren should not be the victims of poorly informed and short-termist decisions made now" says Tom Spencer, arguing for long-term strategic planning at the coast and contributing to the debate on what to do about coastal erosion, in The Telegraph , 25th June 2022.

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# Flood Risk Modelling UK East Coast

By Andy Beecroft, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Elizabeth Christie and Tom Spencer, of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit, in collaboration with the National Oceanography Centre and Consulting Engineers Arup report a new approach to coastal flood risk modelling, with a case study for the city of Hull.

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# A Venetian saltmarsh survival experiment

Tom Spencer has contributed to a commentary in the journal 'Science' on a study published in the journal 'Nature Geoscience' on a large-scale experiment on saltmarsh health in the Venice lagoon where periodic closure of the MOSE barrier system now excludes storm surge sedimentation on the marshes.

Professor Spencer comments 'this study is instructive in highlighting the fundamental mismatch between those strategies aimed at the protection of the built environment and its inhabitants and those aimed at the protection of valuable, biodiverse intertidal habitats. Co-existence is not out of reach but is going to require much more nuanced and sophisticated coastal management approaches than are available at present, urgently needed as we move into decades of progressively higher sea levels.'

# On Coral Reefs, Iconic Engineering and Geography at Cambridge

It is 100 years next October since the formation of Australia's Great Barrier Reef Committee in Brisbane in 1922. As part of these celebrations, Professor Tom Spencer and an Anglo-Australian group of researchers has been investigating one of the Committee's great successes, the 1928-1929 Great Barrier Reef Expedition (Spencer et al., 2021).

On 30 August 1929, Maurice and Mattie Yonge, the Expedition's Leader and Medical Officer respectively, finally said good bye to Australia after living and working for 13 months on Low isles, a small island on the northern Great Barrier Reef. The research undertaken there by the Expedition's British and Australian scientists marked the beginning of modern analytical studies of corals and coral reefs. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was also an Anglo-Australian collaboration, being built by Dorman Long of Middlesborough (and based on their design for the 1928 Tyne Bridge). As the Yonges left Sydney Harbour, the arch was in the early stages of construction; the two halves did not meet until 19 August 1930 with the Bridge finally being opened, an exhilarating affirmation of modern Australia, on 19 March 1932.

But there is also link between the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Great Barrier Reef Expedition and the Department of Geography at Cambridge. One of the key players in the building of the Bridge was Arthur Debenham, Principal Assistant Engineer of the Sydney Harbour Trust. Arthur was the older brother of Frank Debenham (1883-1965), the first Professor of Geography at Cambridge (1931). It was Frank Debenham who had secured the 'Geographical Section' of the 1928-1929 Expedition, seeing to the appointment of Alfred Steers (who was to become the second holder of the Cambridge Chair in 1949) as the section leader and thus promoting the first modern geomorphological studies of the Great Barrier Reef.

Spencer T, Brown, B, Hamylton, S, McLean, R 2021 'A close and friendly alliance': biology, geology and the Great Barrier Reef Expedition of 1928-29. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 59, 89-138.

(Photo: C.M. Yonge, National Library of Australia, nla.obj-145038436-1; 30 August 1929)

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# Coasts, Climate Risk and Cambridge

Research by the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit – on coastal flooding risks (with case studies from The Wash and North Norfolk) and wetland responses to both sea level rise and storm surges – is cited in the latest (June 2021) Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk from the Climate Change Committee.

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# Coasts and COP26

Kat Petersen (Imperial College, London, UK)

The CCRU's Ben Evans and Tom Spencer discuss 'the critical coastal zone' in the COP26 Universities Network's Briefing Paper on the role of Earth Observation in delivering a low-carbon, resilient world.

The COP26 Universities Network is a group of more than 55 UK-based universities working together to raise ambition for tangible outcomes from the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference [Glasgow, Scotland, November 2021].

# Defining mangrove fisheries

Singapore mangroves (photo: T Spencer)

Mangrove forests are rich and complex ecosystems that many fish – and fishers – rely on for survival. A new report from Nippon Foundation Nereus Program researchers based in the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU) published on April 21 in the journal PLOS-ONE will help policy-makers tailor mangrove fishery definitions to specific places and situations.

"The actors and their uses or benefits from the mangrove for fishing are much more diverse than is usually communicated, which means it's likely that not all of these uses are recorded or represented when we make management decisions," said Rachel Seary, lead author of the report "It's important that we represent all uses when we make management decisions so that underrepresented groups don't lose out."

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# Living on a coral atoll: What does the future hold?

Graphical abstract: Virginie Duvat et al. (2021)

Sea-level coral atolls, and their populations, are seen as being high vulnerable to global environmental change. But this debate has largely been framed around the single impact of sea level rise and island submergence.

Now an international team, including the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit's Tom Spencer, has analysed the cumulative risk from multiple drivers (sea‐level rise; changes in rainfall, ocean–atmosphere oscillations and tropical cyclone intensity; ocean warming and acidification) to five Habitability Pillars: Land, Freshwater supply, Food supply, Settlements and infrastructure, and Economic activities.

Risks will be highest on Western Pacific atolls which will experience increased island destabilisation together with a high threat to freshwater, and decreased land‐based and marine food supply. But at all locations, risk will increase even under a low emission scenario by the mid‐century, requiring urgent and ambitious adaptation efforts.

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# Environment Agency research overview

The Environment Agency (EA) and DEFRA fund and deliver applied flood and coastal erosion risk management research for all risk management authorities in England and Wales. They also work directly with Universities to provide end-user input to their research projects.

Over recent years the EA have had input to a number of Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU) projects (CBESS, FAST, RISC-KIT), recognising that fundamental research into coastal disaster risk reduction from natural coastal protection is of vital importance.

This latest EA/DEFRA research overview, records the continuation of this collaboration, highlighting the BLUEcoast (item 13.) and CoastWEB (17.) projects, where CCRU is a partner, and particularly RESIST (18.), where CCRU provides project leadership.

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# Super seagrasses

Seagrass and coral, Cuba(photo: K. Teleki, CCRU))

Ellie Wilding (MPhil by research, 2019-2020) writes about flowering plants that live underwater, seagrasses - 'the undercover hero of the sea' -and how they might help combat climate change in the latest issue of 'BlueSci' magazine.

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# Getting a (proper) grip on UK flooding

Professor Tom Spencer takes the government to task on its approach to river flooding, in an article in The Guardian, 'Getting a proper grip on flooding problems'.

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# Biological Extinctions: New Perspectives

Many congratulations to CCRU alumnus, Dr Anna McIvor who has co-edited, with Partha Dasgupta and Peter Raven, ' Biological Extinction: New Perspectives' (CUP, 2019). The book argues that we need to take a wide view of extinction across a range of socio-ecological systems, with chapters from leading thinkers in biology, economics, geology, archaeology, demography, architecture and intermediate technology.

# Predicting Future Oceans

Congratulations to Mike Bithell, Tom Spencer, Rachel Seary and Chris McOwen (our long-term research collaborator at UNEP-WCMC) for their chapters on 'Drivers of fisheries production in complex social-ecological systems' and 'The future of mangrove fishing communities' in the capstone book, 'Predicting Future Oceans'.

The volume celebrates 8 years of the Nippon Foundation Nereus Program, a collaborative research partnership of 18 institutes, including Cambridge Geography, worldwide. Rachel's mangrove chapter stems from one of three PhDs associated with the Program, following Laurens Geffert's 'Improving species distribution models for commercially important marine species on a global scale' and preceding current student Frederique Fardin's 'Climate Change, Mangrove Forests, and Fisheries, in South-East Asia and the Caribbean'.

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# Arnas Palaima Business Plan semi-finalist

Arnas Palaima

Congratulations to Arnas Palaima, of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit, who has reached the semi-final stage of the 2019 Postdoc Business Plan Competition with his project 'Eco innovator'. Arnas will now be matched with a seasoned mentor from Cambridge Enterprise's network of experts, to help develop key business skills and hone his business plan. Up to six finalists will then go on to compete at the Grand Finale event, taking place on Thursday 31st October 2019, pitching their business plans to a panel of judges who are experts in spin-out investment.

Eco-Innovator is a sustainability-focused social enterprise seeking to empower global students to make the world more sustainable. More specifically, we are creating a web-based accredited program in eco-innovation and sustainability for global students. The program would enable students to solve REAL-LIFE sustainability challenges provided by industry, cities, research and other organizations that are looking for solutions to reduce environmental footprint and make a transit to the circular economy. In addition, students would work on changing their own (as consumers) behavior to reduce their personal environmental impact. The program would be powered by SOLVE software platform to be developed by Eco-Innovator. SOLVE would integrate three technologies: (1) Virtual Innovation Lab Technology that facilitates and automates student innovation process; (2) Performance Assessment Algorithm Technology that translates innovation data to standardized student innovation metrics/score; and (3) AI/Deep Learning-enabled Technology that speeds up Eco-Innovation Process. In addition to seed funds, we are currently seeking for strategic partners within University of Cambridge (in co-creating the program).

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# Weak and wobbly or strong and stable?: Salt marshes as buffers against coastal erosion

As the UK prepares for climate change impacts at the coastal zone, research from Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU) determines the resistance of coastal salt marshes to extreme storms.

Salt marshes fringe much of the world's low-lying coasts. They act as a first line of defence against storm surge waves, reducing storm water levels and the run up of waves on landward sea defences. As a result, vulnerable shorelines and engineered coastal defences are at lower risk of suffering under the impact of climate change, for example through sea level rise and intense storms. Little is known, however, of the resistance of these natural buffers to the continued battering by waves and tides and even less is known about what kind of storm it takes to erode these protective fringes, and thus leaving the coast and the populations living alongside it considerably more vulnerable.

This short film explains how a team of Geographers and Geologists is planning to shed light on what makes salt marshes resistant to storm waves, using the latest remote sensing and soil scanning technologies alongside one of the world's largest indoor wave flumes.

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# Salt marsh could be the best defence against coastal erosion

A new article in the Guardian discusses work by Department lecturer Dr Iris Moeller and the RESIST project, exploring how salt marshes can provide resistance to extreme weather events.

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# Sea Change: how Cambridge Geography is working to protect East Anglian coasts

Featured in the latest Research Horizons, the work of Tom Spencer, Iris Moeller and the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit, explores how coastal communities can work with nature, rather than against it, to protect them from flooding, while collaborating with local authorities in the East of England, the Environment Agency, stakeholders including the National Trust, and the Universities of East Anglia (UEA) and Essex, to develop and test more sustainable approaches to flood defence.

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# Rising seas: to keep humans safe, let nature shape the coast

Writing in The Conversation, Department Lecturer Dr Iris Moeller argues that rising sea levels won't be solved by trying to keep the coast in place, instead, for a defence from coastal flooding, we need to take a step back and let nature decide.

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# Cambridge Geography helps Copernicus flood-proof coasts

A major EU research project, including key contributions from the Department of Geography's Coastal Research Unit, has been selected as one of 99 stories from European public authorities to highlight how we are all benefiting from the European Copernicus Programme, the most ambitious Earth Observation programme to date. Launched on the 26th November 2018 at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, The Ever Growing Use of Copernicus across Europe's Regions offers a glimpse into how Copernicus supports a broad range of public policies.

The Cambridge Coastal Research Unit's (CCRU) contribution to the FAST ('Foreshore Assessment using Space Technology') project was led by Dr Iris Möller. The CCRUs contribution allowed the project team from a total of five leading European research establishments to use state of the art field measurements of waves over flooded wetland surfaces across Europe. This in turn enabled the team to explore how remote sensing can be used as a tool to allow coastal wetlands to be incorporated into coastal protection schemes as natural wave buffers.

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# Is sea level rise accelerating and what are the implications for coastal flooding?

Dr Ivan Haigh, Associated Professor in Ocean and Earth Science at the prestigious National Oceanography Centre, Southampton is at the Coastal Research Unit to present his latest work on sea-level rise and its impacts. He describes a novel approach developed to project sea-level rise out to 2300 to accurately assess our 'commitment to sea-level rise' and how sea level rise will impact coastal flooding around the UK.

Rising sea level is one of the most certain and costliest impacts of climate change. The Paris Agreement committed signatories to 'Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change'. However, while reducing human emissions of greenhouse gases will stabilise temperature and other climate factors, sea-level rise will continue for many centuries. This is due to the long timescale of cryospheric adjustment to elevated air temperatures (especially the large ice sheets), and the long timescale of the deep ocean temperature warming to surface warming.

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# New paper: The interactive relationship between coastal erosion and flood risk

James Pollard

A new article by CCRU's James Pollard, Professor Tom Spencer, and Dr Sue Brooks establishes that coastal flooding and erosion interact in complex ways that must be addressed for effective risk management.

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# Reefs in space and time: Recognising David Stoddart's contribution to coral reef science

A new collection of papers on coral reef geology, geomorphology, biogeography and ecology, and the history of reef science has been published in the memory of David Ross Stoddart (1937-2014).

David Stoddart was a member (undergraduate, Demonstrator, University Lecturer) of the Department of Geography between 1956 and 1988, before becoming Chair of Department and Professor of Geography, University of California at Berkeley. He was a graduate student of Alfred Steers, completing a Ph.D. on the Belize Barrier Reef in 1964.

The collection was the outcome of the opening session of 13th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu, Hawai'i in June 2016 and includes contributions from 4 reef scientists - Colin Woodroffe, Tom Spencer, Sarah Hamylton and Annelise Hagan – all products of graduate training in Physical Geography at Cambridge.

# Coastal management could prevent rising sea levels causing large scale loss of coastal wetlands

© Matthew Barker (cc-by-sa/2.0)

A new study, by a team of researchers led by members of the Department's Cambridge Coastal Research Unit, finds that coastal management could prevent rising sea levels causing large-scale loss of coastal wetlands.

Previous studies have predicted catastrophic coastal wetland loss as sea levels rise. However, this new research shows that the global area of coastal wetland could increase if coasts are managed so that they have alternative spaces to grow: areas where sediment could build up, uninhibited by built infrastructure such as sea walls and cities, and where wetland plants could develop. Coastal wetlands could then expand inland in response to sea level rise.

The research was led by Dr Mark Schuerch, former postdoctoral research fellow at CCRU (now University of Lincoln) with the CCRU Director Professor Tom Spencer and including Dr Ruth Reef (now University of Monash).

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# How do salt marshes cope with storm surges?

An international team of researchers, led by Dr Iris Möller of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit, are conducting a unique experiment into how salt marshes cope with storm surges using the Large Wave Flume, a joint facility of Leibniz University Hannover and TU Braunschweig. Researchers will expose various salt marsh plants and sediment samples to large waves and storm surges.

Salt marshes occur on shallow coasts influenced by tides. They provide a habitat for adapted plants and animals, protect the coast, and contribute to climate protection as they store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, if storm surges occur more frequently due to climate change, the system might become imbalanced and lose its protective function for the coast.

The project is led by the University of Cambridge (UK), in collaboration with Universität Hamburg (Germany), TU Braunschweig (Germany), University of Antwerp (Belgium), as well as the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.

You can find out more about the experiment at the Salt Marshes Under Extreme Waves blog.

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# New paper: Big Data Approaches for coastal flood risk assessment and emergency response

CCRU's Jamie Pollard and Professor Tom Spencer have published a new paper in WIRES Climate Change that discusses the potential for Big Data Approaches to address the challenges of flood risk assessment and emergency response.

Big Data Approaches (BDAs) refers to the combined use of historic datasets, incoming data streams, and the array of related technologies designed to shed new light on societal and environmental complexities through novel organisational, storage and analytical capabilities.

Two branches of coastal flood risk management are considered. Firstly, coastal flood risk assessment, focusing on better characterisation of hazard sources, facilitative pathways and vulnerable receptors. Secondly, flood emergency response procedures, focusing on forecasting of flooding events, dissemination of warnings and response monitoring.

While these BDAs offer opportunities for improved decision making in varied aspects of both decision chains, they are also accompanied by specific technical contextual, institutional and behavioural barriers. These barriers must be overcome if the BDAs outlined here are to practically and genuinely inform coastal flood risk management.

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# Seminar: Tidal flat morphodynamics: Sediment sorting, self-weight consolidation and marsh distribution'

Biogeography & Biogeomorphology Research Group summer seminar

Thursday 19th July 11:00-12:00, Department of Geography Seminar Room, All welcome!

Dr Zeng Zhou, Associate Professor in Coastal Geomorphology
Hohai University, Nanjing, China

Dr Zeng Zhou is a coastal geomorphologist focusing on the (bio-)physical mechanisms underlying the formation and evolution of coastal and estuarine landscapes. He is currently entering the field of coastal biomorphodynamics, with a particular focus on tidal flat systems where tidal channel networks and salt marshes are commonly present. Recently, he is leading a small group of young researchers and graduate students to explore some interesting questions using various approaches e.g. field and laboratory experiments, numerical modelling and UAV imagery. His group aims to gain fundamental insight into the biophysical effects of salt marshes (and biofilms) and their two-way interactions with coastal and estuarine morphology, so as to evaluate and predict the response of tidal flats, channels and marshes to climate change (e.g. sea level rise, increasing frequency of storms) and human activities (e.g. large-scale reclamation, nearshore fishery).

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# How strong a storm destroys protective coastal marshes?

The new NERC-funded RESIST project, led by the Department's Iris Möller, will investigate resistance of coastal salt marshes to extreme storms. Salt marshes contribute to the wave buffering function of shallow water regions on the coast, thus acting as a first line of defence against storm surge waves. Their buffering role protects shorelines from the impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise and stormier seas. However, little is known about how resistant these buffers are to continued battering by waves and tidal currents. The project will supply the first ever data on the resistance of marsh structures to waves, showing which soil and plant types cause greater or lesser stability. The team will be able use the data to create a "physical vulnerability index" of coastal wetlands.

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# Viennese whirl at the CCRU

The Cambridge Coastal Research Unit is once again making a strong showing at the General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) 8-13 April 2018, the largest geosciences meeting in Europe (the 2017 meeting featured 14,000 participants and >17,000 presentations).

Inbetween the coffees and the sachertorte, the Unit's staff, postdocs, PhD students and research associates will be delivering five presentations across biogeomorphology; ecosystem-based approaches to coastal Disaster Risk reduction; natural hazards in estuaries and coasts; and measuring, monitoring and modelling sedimentary and hydro-morphological processes.

Full details of the presentations can be found on the Unit's website.

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# New papers: Resilience increasing strategies for coasts

Elizabeth Christie

Research by Elizabeth Christie, Tom Spencer, Anna McIvor and Iris Mӧller has been published in a Special Issue of 'Coastal Engineering' on Resilience Increasing Strategies for Coasts from the EU FP7 RISC-Kit project.

This Special Issue features 21 papers on methods and case studies around Europe, including 3 papers from the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit:

Regional Coastal flood risk assessment for a tidally dominant, natural coastal setting: North Norfolk, southern North Sea. This paper describes the application and development of a coastal risk assessment framework for the North Norfolk Coast. The framework links spatial varying hazards from coastal storm events and vulnerability at the coast to allow 'hotspots' of risk to be identified.

Historical Analysis of storm events: Case studies in France, England, Portugal and Italy. This paper studies the occurrence and damage intensity of coastal storms from The Middle Ages to the 1960s using historic archives. This enables us to better understand the risks, and thus contribute to potentially reduce vulnerability to extreme storm events by showing lessons learned.

A Bayesian Network approach for coastal risk analysis and decision making. This paper develops a Bayesian Network approach to support decision making in coastal risk management and describes the application to a small town in North Norfolk. The Bayesian Network tool can be used to both predict potential damage from a given storm event, and to evaluate the effects of potential disaster risk reduction measures

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# Flood Risk and Future Cities

Congratulations to CCRU's Jamie Pollard, winner of one of 8 Future Cities Prize Fellowships 2018. Jamie aims to use satellite imagery to study evolving coastal flood risk in rapidly growing megacities. The Fellowships, awarded through a generous gift from Capital and Counties Properties Plc., are designed to support PhD students from across the University in the development of research relating to future cities.

# Book release: North Sea Surge, 2nd Edition: social accounts of the 1953 floods remain relevant over 60 years later

In 1953, England suffered its deadliest natural disaster in over 350 years. The cause - a North Sea Surge that swept its way down the east coast battering communities from Northumberland to Norfolk and beyond to the Thames Estuary. Over 300 people were killed in England alone, both during the storm and in the chaotic aftermath that followed.

As one of the few sociological accounts of the impacts on flood victims, North Sea Surge has often been cited by research scientists, in government reports and the press. Now in a second edition, James Pollard updates the unforgettable story of the East Coast Floods, in North Sea Surge: The story of the East Coast Floods of 1953, 2nd Edition.

Through this update, Pollard reiterates the key themes for flood risk management and resilience to future flooding that have been the mainstay of reviews, reports and research since: the responsiveness of local and national government; the efficacy of flood warnings and national forecasting services; the tensions between private and public accountability; and the deep reserves of national good-heartedness that feature large in times of crisis. In doing so, questions pertinent to the flood risk managers of today are posed:

  • Have we genuinely learnt lessons?
  • Are we really better prepared or does serendipity still dictate the extent of harm from coastal flooding?
  • Are we thinking about personal impacts when we design national strategies for 'flood risk management' and 'flood resilience', or have we simply invented a new lexicon to avoid the challenges of making things better for communities prone to coastal flooding, including those far from the city?

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# Cambridge University selects coastal Geography case study to showcase Public Engagement with Research

Iris Möller

"The potential effects of climate change and of human modifications of the landscape on flood risk are critically important if human society is to continue to thrive in flood-prone areas" says Dr Möller of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit and the Biogeography and Biogeomorphology Research Group at the Department of Geography.

"To encourage greater awareness of this important issue, we successfully applied to the University's Public Engagement with Research Awards scheme in 2016 to construct our augmented reality dynamic landscape sand box". The sand box has multiple uses. It is as useful as a tool to engage research stakeholders and policy makers in discussion around complex flood protection and climate adaptation issues as it is for engaging the general public during events such as the University's Science Festival, where it will next make an appearance on the 17th of March 2018.

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# Global Alliance, Global Wetlands

CCRU awarded funding for a collaborative project with University of California Berkeley and the National University of Singapore

Professor Tom Spencer and Dr Iris Möller have secured one of five Global Alliance funding awards for a project titled 'Opportunities for ecological adaptation to flood hazards in major global cities: London, Singapore and San Francisco'.

The Global Alliance was formed in 2016 as a tripartite agreement between the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Cambridge and the National University of Singapore. It aims to develop innovative research across the three institutions and via three themes: Precision Medicine, Cities and Smart Systems. It is expected that successful applicants will apply for external funding to scale projects 18 months after this seed funding has been received.

Falling under the 'Cities' theme, the CCRU project will investigate the potential for ecological adaptation and ecosystem-based flood defence management in three contrasting urban socio-ecological systems: London and the Thames Estuary, San Francisco and San Francisco Bay, and the island margins of the City State of Singapore.

It is well established that ecosystems such as tidal marshes, mangroves, dunes and oyster reefs have the natural capacity to reduce storm surges and waves, provide flood water storage and offer many additional benefits. However, coastal space usage is increasingly contested by other economic and social pressures, meaning that the design, implementation and effectiveness of ecosystem-based flood defence solutions depends on multiple and interacting social, environmental, economic and political factors.

The project will explore the drivers of coastal restoration and adaptation in each city and the policy contexts within which these are situated, investigating possible methods to identify locations suitable for adaptation interventions and criteria to measure and compare intervention 'success' and outcomes.

For further information contact: Olivia Shears (

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# Coasts: the Global Alliance

Opportunities for ecological adaptation to flood hazards in major global cities: London, Singapore and San Francisco

In recent years, ecosystem-based flood defence has been gaining currency as a more sustain­able and cost-effective risk management approach than conventional engineering of 'hard' defences, evidenced by the building of sea walls, dykes and embankments. This new collaboration between Cambridge (Tom Spencer, Iris Möller and Olivia Shears from CCRU) , UC Berkeley and the National University of Singapore (including CCRU alumnus Dan Friess), under the 'Global Alliance' programme, will investigate the potential for ecological adaptation to flood and sea level rise hazards in three contrasting urban socio-ecological systems – London and the Thames Estuary, San Francisco and San Francisco Bay, and the island city state of Singapore – building regional networks of natural coastal protection knowledge and assessing varied management practices, institutional contexts, market uptake and capacity development.

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# CCRU down under

Ruth Reef

Researchers from the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit have contributed to a successful Australian Research Council Discovery Project award led by Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

This prestigious award (A$ 324k) will enable knowledge transfer and exchange between the two island nations to reduce vulnerability to sea level rise. The low elevation coastal zone contains 13% of the Australian population and is subject to intensive agriculture and urbanisation. Accelerating sea level rise is thus a major societal concern and its impacts on shorelines must be accurately determined. This Australian-UK collaboration aims to improve Australia's capacity to predict changing shoreline position with sea level rise, better understand the role of vegetation in foreshore stabilisation and identify under what conditions the shoreline might suddenly shift landwards.

Picture caption: Beach on Hinchinbrook Island, Northern Queensland, as seen from a drone, backed by an intertidal mangrove swamp (fore) and granite cliffs (back). Mangrove swamps can contribute to land elevation gain by trapping external sediments and creating organic matter, while cliffs provide little opportunity for shoreline retreat.

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# Physical Geography / Environmental Science PhD opportunities

Ali Banwell

The list of PhD topics we would like to pursue with interested students has just been launched. The link gives further details. CCRU also has a list of topics. The funding deadline is 4th January 2018, for an October 2018 start. Do get in touch with a prospective supervisor who will help with your application as soon as possible.

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# Webinar: Resources to implement nature based flood defence

On Thursday 20 July, Department Lecturer Iris Moeller will be appearing as part of a webinar on The MI-SAFE package: Resources to implement nature based flood defence. She will be discussing her work on the FAST (Foreshore Assessment Using Space Technology) project and the new MI-SAFE technology which combines existing and new earth observation data for coasts worldwide to estimate the contribution of vegetated foreshores towards coastal flood and erosion risk reduction.

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# Stormy Geomorphology: new EGU blog

James Tempest

A new post on the European Geosciences Union blog by a team including James Tempest, Dr Iris Moeller and Prof Tom Spencer explores the role that geomorphology can play in improving our understanding of flood risk through extreme storm and flood events. In addition, they show how geomorphological science is now regularly used to deliver nature-based management approaches, such as the creation of coastal wetlands. Such approaches are delivering more sustainable forms of flood and storm defence that are effective in reducing damage and destruction brought about by extreme events.

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# Scientia: Using nature to protect us from... nature

The work of Department Lecturer Dr Iris Moeller and Cambridge Coastal Research Unit on the role of salt marshes in protecting coastlines from storm surges appears in a new profile in Scientia.

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# Cambridge Coastal Research: live press conference

Flooding in La-Faute-sur-Mer, 2010

On Tuesday 25 April, 8am-9am, the research of a team including Professor of Coastal Dynamics Tom Spencer will feature in a live press conference from the European GeoSciences Union General Assembly. The press conference will present findings from the team's Paper 'Impact of storms on coastlines: preparing for the future without forgetting the past? Examples from European coastlines using a Storm Impact Database' appearing in the 'Natural hazard event analyses for risk reduction and adaptation' session of the conference. The press conference will be live streamed. Prof Spencer is one of a large group of researchers from both the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit and Climate and Environment Dynamics team presenting at the assembly.

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# New film on coastal research

In a new film on the University's Youtube Channel, University Lecturer Dr Iris Möller explains how an understanding of natural processes and landforms can help us develop win-win solutions for reducing flood risk.

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# New research with Cambridge Coastal Research Unit explores the coastal protection of salt marshes and climate change

Dr Reef being filmed for the BBC’s ‘Countryfile’, demonstrating how elevated CO2 is affecting saltmarsh growth.

Research by Ruth Reef (Monash, previously MC Research Fellow), Tom Spencer, Iris Möller, Catherine Lovelock (Queensland), Elizabeth Christie, Anna McIvor, Ben Evans and James Tempest recently published in Global Change Biology explores how elevated levels of CO2 and changing nutrient availability are affecting saltmarsh growth. Saltmarshes play a vital role in protecting coastlines from storm surges, but their growth is expected to be affected by changing environmental conditions. This study was innovative in its analysis of the role play by both biological processes (both above and below ground) and geomorphological processes in affecting saltmarsh growth. The study used saltmarsh blocks from the Essex marshes grown under different climate change scenarios in Cambridge Botanic Garden to measure the effects of elevated CO2 and eutrophication on surface elevation change. It was found that Elevated CO2 conditions could enhance resilience in vulnerable systems such as those with low mineral sediment supply or where migration upwards within the tidal frame is constrained. The project has also led to wider collaborations with researchers in Germany and Australia.

The results of this study will be able to guide management policy regarding the conservation of saltmarshes in the face of sea level rise.

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# Healthy saltmarshes for coastal defence

During the last month, the consortium of the European 'FAST' Project celebrated their second general assembly in Cadiz (Spain). The consortium concluded that after two years of collecting data in the field, making great advances in satellite image analysis and interacting with potential end-users, they have enough information to refine the Basic prototype of the MI-SAFE tool. This innovative product will provide easily accessible information about individual saltmarshes of use to scientists, managers and citizens. The tool will allow the user to assess the importance of the flood defence services provided by coastal ecosystems, on European shores and beyond.

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# One Hundred Years of Coral Reef Mapping

Co-ordinated by Dr Tom Spencer and with strong Departmental connections, this display describes early reef mapping in the Central Pacific at the turn of the 20th century, the first detailed reef mapping, at Low Isles on the Great Barrier Reef by Alfred Steers in 1928-1929 (remapped in the 1970s by David Stoddart), and recent mapping from remotely-sensed imagery in the Seychelles by the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (Sarah Hamylton, Annelise Hagan and Tom Spencer). The exhibition is supported by key texts, taken from the Department Library's interesting collection of coral reef books.

The Periodicals Room, The Library, Department of Geography, 7 March - 22 April 2016. See opening times.

Image: Geological sketch map and sections, Funamanu Islet, Funafuti atoll mapped by George Sweet during the Second Expedition to Funafuti in 1897 (from Spencer, T, Stoddart DR and McLean RF 2008 Coral Reefs. In: Burt TP et al.(Eds.), The History of the Study of

# Cambridge research on sustainable flood defences on Arte TV

A CCRU project from 2013, involving a large wave flume experiment on the natural coastal protection provided by salt marshes, has contributed to a half-hour documentary on this topic produced by the French-German TV channel Arte.

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# Departmental seminar: Challenges for an improved understanding of sea level extremes and coastal flood mitigation

The Departmental seminar on 3rd December will be given by Dr Kevin Horsburgh, National Oceanography Centre, who is the Head of the Marine Physics and Ocean Climate (MPOC) at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC). He also leads NOC's professional partnership with the Environment Agency (EA) and the Met Office for the UK Coastal Monitoring and Forecasting service which provides operational coastal flood forecasts. All welcome!

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# David Stoddart Memorial Dinner

On 21st November, 39 guests attended a dinner that was held in St John's College to commemorate the life and work of David Ross Stoddart (1937-2014), the well-known geographer, geomorphologist and conservationist. David Stoddart was a former student of the Department who, after his Ph.D on the coral reefs and cays of Belize, went on to a distinguished career as a Lecturer in Cambridge and, after 1988, as the Professor of Geography at Berkeley, University of California. At the memorial dinner the various facets of his life were remembered by members of his family, friends, colleagues and former students, in particular his huge contributions to coral reef and island studies in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific, his key role in the conservation of Aldabra Atoll, south west Indian Ocean, and his fieldwork with our students on the salt marshes on East Anglia. Many of the lines of research pioneered in Cambridge by Alfred Steers (1899-1987) were taken further by David Stoddart, and they are continued today in the work of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (Director Dr Tom Spencer, Deputy Director Dr Iris Möller).

# Sea-level rise threatens over 60% of Indo-Pacific coastal wetlands

R. Reef

A uniquely detailed study of 153 Indo-Pacific mangrove sites shows that in 69 per cent of the studied locations sediment deposition is not able to keep surface elevation at or above rising sea-level. Dr Ruth Reef, currently based at the Department of Geography's Cambridge Coastal Research Unit, is part of an international group of experts whose findings are published in the Journal Nature this week. Their results also suggest that mangrove forests at sites with low tidal range (i.e. a small difference in water level between high and low water stages of the tide) and little available sediment could be submerged as early as 2070. Mangrove ecosystems are unique habitats and act as stores of carbon, nursery grounds for commercially exploited fish, and natural coastal protection from storms. These new findings thus emphasise the urgent need to reduce/reverse the effect of river damming, which is the prime cause for reduced sediment delivery.

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# Climate Change, Salt Marshes, and Coastal Protection

Photo by: I Möller

One of the most in intriguing-looking projects currently hosted on the Research Plots of the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens involves a line of six ply and polythene domes! These are part of a Marie Curie funded research collaboration between Dr Ruth Reef, Dr Iris Moller and Dr Tom Spencer from the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU) at the Department of Geography.

In these domes they are growing salt marsh plants in order to investigate how global change is affecting the energy dissipation properties of salt marsh vegetation so to better understand the role salt marshes play in coastal defence and how this role might change under future climate scenarios. Coastal salt marshes protect our coastlines by dissipating wave energy and reducing erosion.

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# Dr Tom Spencer organises International Discussion Meeting on 'Stormy Geomorphology'

Coastal impacts beyond SW England - Porthcawl, South Wales

Living in an age of extremes: how the study of landscape dynamics can help us

The British Society for Geomorphology, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), and Wiley are holding a one day international conference on Stormy Geomorphology: geomorphic contributions in an age of extremes on 11 May 2015 at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), London. The lead organiser is the Department's Dr Tom Spencer.

Typhoon Haiyan, Indus river flooding, Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina: extreme storms and floods are increasing in frequency and intensity across much of the globe. These events generate severe coastal and river flooding which have considerable impacts on the landscape, and in turn, the people that live in vulnerable regions.

'In the face of this environmental challenge, a continued reliance on at-a-point engineered flood defences is most likely both unrealistic and undesirable' says Dr Spencer. 'But by thinking outside this box, Geomorphology – the science of the study of landforms – can help us to understand, measure, and predict the landscape-scale impacts of extreme events on human lives and livelihoods. Geomorphology can contribute towards helping communities plan for, and recover quickly from, severe storm events and coastal flooding'.

Speakers from around the world (USA, Australia, continental Europe and the UK) will present state-of-the-art research which aids the better understanding of the impacts of extreme events, to an audience of academics, engineers, land managers, government organisations, NGOs, and local authorities.

Speakers will discuss: innovative techniques to monitor, measure, and model extreme events; how geological and historical records can help us improve flood risk assessments and infrastructure planning; how land management policy and practice can ease the impact of extreme events; and how natural and nature-based approaches to flood management can make an important contribution to risk reduction strategies.

All these insights and approaches are needed to help us better cope with an increasingly stormy world.

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# Cambridge Science Festival Geography and UCCRI activity

I Möller

The Geography Department event at the Cambridge Science Festival 2015 was a great success, with more than 150 visitors enjoying a range of activities from the study of salt marsh mud, to the measurement of waves in shallow water, playing a computer game to find out how to use the natural environment to protect against coastal flooding and looking at the weird and wonderful invertebrates that inhabit our tidal flats under the microscope, to reading about invasive species and learning about the habitat and behaviour of crayfish

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# Science Festival event - Splash and Squelch

Donna O'Donoghue (

Saturday 14 March: 10:00am - 4:00pm
Department of Geography, Downing Place, CB2 3EN

An event for the Science Festival! Find out about the animals and plants that live on our coasts, try out a wave sensor, find out how to prepare for floods, meet a crayfish, and lots more... Explore the magic of muddy and watery places and find out why we need them. Brought to you by the Coastal Research Unit, Environmental Systems and Processes Group and University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute,

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# Salt marsh plants key to reducing coastal erosion and flooding

The effectiveness of salt marshes – wetlands which are flooded and drained by tides – in protecting coastal areas in times of severe weather has been quantified in a study led by researchers from the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge.

In the largest laboratory experiment ever constructed to investigate this phenomenon, the researchers have shown that over a distance of 40 metres, the salt marsh reduced the height of large waves in deep water by 18%, making them an effective tool for reducing the risk of coastal erosion and flooding. Sixty percent of this reduction is due to the presence of marsh plants alone. The results are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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# Three lectureship posts

The Department is currently advertising three lectureship posts - University Lecturer in Coastal Processes, and two University Lecturer in Human Geography posts.

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# Assessing coastal ‘bio-buffers’ from space

Image: I Moeller

The Cambridge Coastal Research Unit of the University of Cambridge participates in a 2.8 M Euros EU research project to use satellites and ecosystems in flood risk management strategies.

The European 7th Framework Programme (SPACE) is funding a consortium of five European institutions (including the University of Cambridge) from the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Romania and Spain to work on the FAST project (Foreshore Assessment using Space Technology). FAST started this month (January 2014) and will last 4 years. The consortium will generate the first standardised tool for integrating ecosystem properties into flood risk management strategies. To achieve this objective, space technology and field measurements will be combined to study 8 foreshores and floodplain ecosystems in four European countries.

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# Coastal Unit surveys storm surge levels

T Spencer

A storm surge on 5-6 December 2013 threatened urban centres and rural communities around the southern North Sea in a similar way to such an event 60 years ago. Resulting in more than 2,000 deaths, the 1953 flood was western Europe's most devastating in 100 years in terms of loss of life, but catastrophe was averted this time by improvements in defences, early warning systems, integrated crisis management and storm surge forecasting. In the immediate aftermath of the surge, high resolution (Leica Viva GS08 GNSS system; all measurements with 3-D coordinate quality < 50mm, and typically < 20mm) measurements - from clear debris lines, erosional cliffing in earthen bank defence lines and water marks on buildings - of maximum water level elevations were obtained by teams from the Department's Cambridge Coastal Research Unit along the 45 km-long coastline of North Norfolk, eastern England. These measurements confirm that the December 2013 event was comparable to, and in places exceeded, 1953 flood levels. Of particular significance, however, is evidence for considerable alongshore variations in mean peak water level heights, with a maximum between-station difference of > 1.20 m. This variability reflects the combined effect of still water level (tide + surge) and wave runup, which has a strong local component. For this coastline of barrier islands, spits and tidal embayments, these observations point to the critical role played by geomorphic setting (open coast, tidal inlet, backbarrier) and coastal ecosystems (extent of mudflat, saltmarsh) in determining the actual pattern of storm surge impacts. These differences become critical when properties, infrastructure and lives are threatened by sea flooding. They highlight the need to take greater notice of such morphodynamic controls, both in improving hydrodynamic modelling and forecasting efforts and in fine-tuning early warning systems and strategic evacuation planning, in time for when the next 'big flood' threatens the vulnerable low-lying coasts of NW Europe.

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# The Storm Surge: In- and Outdoors!

Photo: I Moeller

The team of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit of the Department of Geography has just returned from an experiment to investigate the effect of saltmarshes on high water levels and waves at one of the world's largest wave flumes in Hannover Germany, only to find a real storm surge battering their wave recording equipment on the UK coast. This is the first time ever that data has been collected over saltmarshes in such conditions – both in the flume and on the coast. Read more about the flume experiment and watch this space for more news on the latest UK storm surge.

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# Our natural wave buffers

Iris Moeller

A storm surge in the North Sea caused catastrophic flooding on the coast of eastern England on 31 January 1953. The flood inundated more than 65,000 hectares of land, damaged 24,000 houses and around 200 important industrial premises, resulting in 307 deaths in the immediate flooding phase.

The Cambridge Coastal Research Unit in the Department of Geography is part of the Natural Environment Research Council's CBESS project, investigating the role of saltmarshes and coastal ecosystems in reducing flood damage. The project features in an article by BBC Science editor David Shukman on 31st January 2013 and in a Cambridge University feature on the research. See also a BBC News piece on iPlayer.

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# Dr Iris Möller calls for new priorities in coastal management policy

Dr Iris Möller calls for new priorities in coastal management policy in the October issue of Public Service Review.

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# The Magic of Mud

Iris Möller - Gathering evidence for the importance of the UKs muddy coastal ecosystems as natural sea defences

Cambridge coastal scientists are heading to the unlikely locations of Essex and Morecambe Bay to prove that coastal salt marshes and mud flats protect from storms.

The Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU) of the Department of Geography in Cambridge has been part of a large team of coastal specialists carrying out a detailed investigation into the benefits humans derive from our muddy coast. From the storage of greenhouse gases, to the benefit as a natural buffer between stormy seas and the people that live near them, the CBESS project aims to discover the true value of this coastal wilderness.

Dr Möller, Lecturer in Physical Geography at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge, and co-investigator on the project, says "The measurement of waves in these environments is an immense challenge. To avoid the damage to sophisticated measuring equipment, highly resilient pressure sensors have to be mounted on the muddy surface. When the tide comes in and waves travel over them, pressure on a diaphragm varies very quickly. These pressure variations can be converted into records of high-frequency water level variations (i.e. waves) and waves can be tracked as they move across the mud and the plants. We already know that some of the Essex marshes regularly reduce the energy of waves by up to 90% over a distance of 80 metres or so."

The CCRU's research is part of a six year NERC-funded programme involving 14 research institutions and led by the University of St Andrews.

The realisation that coastal ecosystems fulfil important functions that benefit society does not come before its time. Dr Spencer, Director of the CCRU, says "the risk of coastal flooding in many areas is likely to increase due to sea-level rise and possible near-future increases in storminess and extensive residential, industrial and infrastructural development in vulnerable areas. A more nuanced approach to coastal engineering is now needed, which not only considers hard structures but also investigates the role of coastal ecosystems in coastal risk reduction and how, through 'hybrid engineering', both types of approach to coastal defence can be brought together to reduce risks at the coast and provide a long-term and robust response to the threat of catastrophic coastal flooding."

A total of 42 wave recording devices have been installed at three marshes on the Essex coast and two marshes in Morecambe Bay, continuously streaming data back to Cambridge via mobile phone telemetry.

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# ESRC-NERC PhD Studentship

ESRC-NERC PhD studentship available. Project title 'Understanding and Policy Framing of Coastal Conservation under Sea Level Rise'. UK or EU applicants are eligible.

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