Predicting coastal erosion, UK

A demonstration project for the Met Office, applying a new methodology for predicting coastal erosion under climate change. Having proven its worth in this demonstration project, our tool for modelling shoreline retreat promises to provide a vital guide in protecting coastal communities, assets and infrastructure.


  • United Kingdom


  • The Met Office, Environment Agency

Project Value

  • £12k

Project Status

  • 2017-2018


  • The British Geological Survey, The Channel Coastal Observatory, The University of Utrecht

Fast facts

  • The first application of the UKCP18 projections of marine climate change
  • UK coastal erosion forecast to increase more slowly than sea level rise
  • Paves the way for a national trial in 2019

Who is the client?

The Met Office is the UK’s weather service, an executive agency of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The Environment Agency, which co-funded the project, is sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, with the purpose of protecting the environment in England and promoting sustainable development.

Understanding the impact of predicted climate

The UK Climate Projections 2018 (UKCP18), produced by the Met Office, offer the most comprehensive picture of how the country’s climate could change by the end of the century. For one of the demonstration projects commissioned to increase understanding of how the UKCP18 projections can be put to use, WSP was invited to carry out a study of coastal erosion over the next century along a notional sectional of typical UK coastline. Projections of shoreline retreat are now vital for landowners and local authorities in gauging the risks that coastal erosion presents to communities, assets and infrastructure.

Modelling a typical UK shoreline

Working with draft – but anticipated – climate projections provided in advance of the UKCP18 launch, we applied our Soft Cliff and Platform Erosion (SCAPE) modelling tool to a notional shore profile typical of the UK, of a beach and shore platform with a cliff above. The climate-related data included observations and projections from around the UK of sea-level rise, tidal range, coastal surge and wave conditions.

Planning policy for coastal communities

Our findings were both unexpected and welcome. By taking into account the nuanced interaction between the shore’s changing profile and the rising sea, we were able to predict the increase in the rate of cliff erosion over the next 100 years. This was found to be 1.6 to 1.9 times the current rate – certainly not ideal, but significantly less than projections made with older methods, suggesting lower overall risks than was previously believed. This successful trial of SCAPE with UKCP18 outputs paves the way for a national roll-out in 2019, which is being sponsored by the Environment Agency.

The science of sea level rise shows us that we are just beginning a long and challenging period of extraordinary change at the coast. In response we must develop new policies that are efficient and sustainable, and also fair to many future generations that will be affected. To achieve this, we must understand the natural responses of our coasts to climate change, and learn to adapt to them.
Mike Walkden Associate Director in Water, WSP