Durham University

Sea-Level & Coastal Change (SLaCC)

Meeting Report

Sea-Level and Costal Change (SLaCC) QRA Research Group Conference and Field Meeting

Liverpool, 6th - 8th September, 2017

The third meeting of QRA’s Sea Level and Coastal Change (SLaCC) Research Group took place at Liverpool John Moores University from 6th - 8th September, 2017. The meeting provided an informal opportunity for students and coastal scientists alike to present recent work on sea-level and coastal change over a range of spatial and temporal scales, and to receive friendly feedback and advice.

Wednesday 6th September

The meeting began with a poster session, and attendees were given the opportunity to present posters to the group to provide a taster of their research. A great breadth of UK-based (Louise Best, Durham) and international field work was presented (e.g. Ghazali Noorzalianee, Edinburgh), alongside monitoring (e.g. Phil Knight, Liverpool) and modelling research (e.g. Micheál Butler, Bradford). Conference attendees also paid tribute to Paolo Pirazzoli, who inspired and supported coastal scientists in recent decades.

Thursday 7th September

Peter Thorne (National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool) began the first session of the day on ‘Monitoring and modelling coastal change.’ Peter presented recent laboratory-based work and developments in acoustic instrumentation to measure small-scale, dynamic interactions between suspended sediment, bed and flow. The session then saw presentations on the classification of sediment dynamics on the continental shelf (Kieran Craven, Maynooth), biophysical processes on saltmarshes (Ben Evans, Cambridge) and sediment transport in a macro-tidal estuary (Xiaorong Li, Liverpool).

Ian Shennan (Durham) commenced the session on ‘Quaternary sea-level and coastal change’, and presented global and local-scale factors on sea-level and coastal change in the British Isles. Ian also reminded PGRs and ECRs of the importance to question longstanding beliefs, and their supervisors…! The session then outlined current research on sea-level change in the UK and NW Europe, including Holocene evolution on the East coast (Christine Hamilton, Liverpool John Moores), late Holocene relative sea-level change in the Humber Estuary (Louise Best, Durham) identifying sea-level highstands on the south coast (Becky Briant, Birkbeck) and using carbon isotopes and geochemical datasets to reconstruct sea-level trends (Graham Wilson, Chester). Presentations also showcased international research, with a focus on sea-level change in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Rob Barnett, Exeter) and the isostatic sea-level signal in the Mediterranean (Matteo Vacchi, Exeter).

Richard Shirres (Environment Agency) gave insight into the managed realignment scheme at Hesketh Out Marsh East at the start of the ‘Evidence-based coastal management’ session. The session included talks on using a web-based decision support tool to promote discussion for resilient coastal energy supplies (Andy Plater, Liverpool), examining saltmarsh resilience to extreme storm events (Tom Prime, National Oceanography Centre Liverpool) and using joint-probability methods to simulate future storm scenarios which may affect nuclear energy infrastructure (Jenny Brown, National Oceanography Centre Liverpool). Talks focused on dynamic estuarine environments, including metal uptake by microphytobenthos in estuarine intertidal sediments (Amani Becker, Stirling) and simulating extreme water levels in a hypertidal estuary (Charlotte Lyddon, Liverpool).

Sue Brooks (Birkbeck) presented her extensive data set on coastal change on the north Norfolk coast, with a particular focus on morphological changes following the winter storms of 2013/2014 in the session on ‘Contemporary coastal processes and geomorphology.’ Presentations showcasing interesting results from recent field and laboratory based work was presented in this session; tidal marsh records of earthquakes in Chile (Martin Brader, Durham), sedimentary processes at Medmerry managed realignment site (Jonathan Dale, Brighton), and a new topographic methodology to detect saltmarsh form (Guillaume Goodwin, Edinburgh).

Friday 8th September

Hesketh Out Marsh East (HOME) Managed Realignment Site

On Friday we donned our field gear and headed north of Liverpool to explore the Ribble Estuary and SSSI designated Sefton Coastline. The first stop of the day was at the Ribble Estuary to explore the managed realignment at Hesketh Out Marsh East (HOME). The saltmarshes of Hesketh Out Marsh were reclaimed in the early 1980’s, with the western portion (HOMW) realigned to the coastline in 2008; realignment of HOME began in 2014, with final breaching undertaken in summer 2017. Richard Shirres expanded upon his keynote presentation, and as the fair weather just about held, walked us out on the embankments to show the realignment in action. This provoked interesting discussions regarding the positioning of lagoons and creeks, as well as the wider effects on sedimentary processes.


The second stop of the day was to explore the beach and dune systems at Formby. Ken Pye (Kenneth Pye Associates) explained the high energy coastal processes acting on the Sefton Coastline, and led us on an exploration of the dynamic beach and dune system. The exposure of Formby Point to westerly fetches make it susceptible to storm erosion, with ongoing concerns over the shoreline management. The stretch of coastline has therefore undergone considerable research over the last several decades to help understand the sediment budget, transport, and responses to storms to help inform and support shoreline management. The strong winds during the visit enabled the aeolian processes involved to be witnessed first-hand, and late Holocene organic soils and nicotine manufacturing waste exposures on the beach and frontal dunes provided key points for discussion regarding the evolution, and pressures, on this stretch of coastline.


The final stop of the field meeting was at the sea wall and intertidal flats of Crosby. Located at the mouth of the Mersey Estuary, the sea wall at Crosby is approaching the end of its intended design life, and as with Formby, monitoring is necessary to help understand the processes and inform management decisions. Cai Bird (Marlin Maritime Technologies and National Oceanographic Centre) explained the application of a ‘Rapidar’, a ground-based marine radar that can continuously monitor intertidal topography, which allowed the analysis of beach volume over the winter 2017 period at Crosby. As the ‘Iron Men’ statues by Sir Antony Gormley emerged from the falling tide, those brave enough indulged in an ice cream, providing a striking view to close to the field meeting.


The third conference and second field meeting of SLaCC provided another great forum for sea-level, palaeo-environmental and coastal change scientists, archaeologists, environmental managers and engineers to meet, share ideas and explore important palaeo and contemporary research locations. Of particular importance was the high involvement of postgraduate students and ECRs throughout, as well as distinguished academics, which created great opportunities to engage in discussion of current and future work in a welcoming environment.


On behalf of all participants, we would like to extend our thanks to Christine Hamilton, Jason Kirby (LJMU), and Andy Plater (Liverpool) for organising and hosting a great and interesting conference and field meeting that covered a breadth of topics. Additional thanks to all keynote speakers and field hosts, as well as Natasha Barlow (Leeds) and Sarah Woodroffe (Durham) for their continued help and support in running SLaCC. We also wish to thank the QRA for their support for the research group, which has enabled continued high levels of postgraduate participation.

Louise Best, Department of Geography, Durham University, Lower Mountjoy, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE.

Charlotte Lyddon, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Liverpool, Roxby Building, Liverpool, L69 7ZT.