Fieldwork and practical suggestions

The study of coastlines presents many opportunities for students to undertake personal research or group fieldwork. Traditionally, work has often concentrated on:

  • Aspects of coastal geomorphology such as cliff retreat or beach profile mapping and sediment analysis
  • Coastal ecosystems and the way that they change along a transect directed inland
  • Competition between different user groups

The predicted dire consequences of climate change and sea-level rise mean that there are now plenty of opportunities to incorporate this theme when undertaking a coastal study. For instance:

  • Students could look at historical tidal data to see if there is any significant statistical evidence of an increase in extremely high tides. Have return periods for extreme events remained constant over time or are they occurring more frequently? Many coastal settlements have public monuments (or similar) that show the height of record breaking tides in the past, perhaps stretching as far back as the Middle Ages, or even earlier.
  • Students working along the south coast could survey the inter-tidal zone for evidence of ancient settlement. Many studies have shown that evidence of Viking, Roman and earlier occupation can be found along the lower shoreline around the Solent, for instance. What do these tell us about changing sea levels in the area? What possible explanations are there?
  • The Norfolk coast similarly offers opportunities for historical investigations looking at old maps to see previous shoreline positions and charting the extent of lost or abandoned land and properties.
  • A study might look at the impact of rising tides and shifting shores on local property markets - what happens to house prices in threatened areas? Alternatively, what happens to prices when defenses are introduced or improved?

The Edexcel examination suggests that coasts provide plenty of opportunities for practical work/GIS, including satellite images to show coastal change, maps to calculate coastal erosion, shoreline management and statistics for coastal retreat and flooding. They suggest that students could use primary and secondary sources to investigate and analyse the pace and impacts of coastal erosion at Towyn, Start Bay or Holderness, for instance.