Recent acceleration in coastal cliff retreat rates on the south coast of Great Britain

Hurst, Martin D.; Rood, Dylan H.; Ellis, Michael A.; Anderson, Robert S.; Dornbusch, Uwe. 2016 Recent acceleration in coastal cliff retreat rates on the south coast of Great Britain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113 (47). 13336-13341.

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Rising sea levels and increased storminess are expected to accelerate the erosion of soft-cliff coastlines, threatening coastal infrastructure and livelihoods. To develop predictive models of future coastal change we need fundamentally to know how rapidly coasts have been eroding in the past, and to understand the driving mechanisms of coastal change. Direct observations of cliff retreat rarely extend beyond 150 y, during which humans have significantly modified the coastal system. Cliff retreat rates are unknown in prior centuries and millennia. In this study, we derived retreat rates of chalk cliffs on the south coast of Great Britain over millennial time scales by coupling high-precision cosmogenic radionuclide geochronology and rigorous numerical modeling. Measured 10Be concentrations on rocky coastal platforms were compared with simulations of coastal evolution using a Monte Carlo approach to determine the most likely history of cliff retreat. The 10Be concentrations are consistent with retreat rates of chalk cliffs that were relatively slow (2–6 cm⋅y−1) until a few hundred years ago. Historical observations reveal that retreat rates have subsequently accelerated by an order of magnitude (22–32 cm⋅y−1). We suggest that acceleration is the result of thinning of cliff-front beaches, exacerbated by regional storminess and anthropogenic modification of the coast.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 0027-8424
Date made live: 08 Feb 2017 13:41 +0 (UTC)

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