The winter storms of 2014: oceanography and coastal impacts

Gerd Masselink
Coastal Processes Research Group, School of Marine Science and Engineering, Plymouth University, Plymouth

T: 01752 585902

During the past winter, the southwest coast of England experienced an unprecedented sequence of exceptionally energetic wave conditions with maximum wave heights frequently exceeding 10 m. According to the Met Office, the storm Hercules on 6 January 2014 represented an event that can be expected once every 5–10 years, whereas the storm Petra on 5 February 2014 was the most damaging storm in terms of coastal impact on the south coast of Devon and Cornwall for the last 50 years. Furthermore, wave data analysis reveals that the period from mid-December 2013 to mid-February 2014 represents the most energetic period of waves to have hit the southwest coast of England since at least 1950 (see Figure). Not surprisingly, the impact of this stormy period on the coast has been very significant with extensive losses of sand from beaches exposing the underlying rocky platforms, overwashing of gravel barriers, coastal dune erosion, cliff collapse and destruction of rocky coast features.

The Coastal Processes Research Group (CPRG) at Plymouth University has been investigating the effect of the 2013/2014 winter wave conditions on a large number of coastal sites throughout the southwest of England. This research is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council in the form of an Urgency grant specifically designed to fund extreme event-driven research. It has been found that the coastal response of the various storm events has been highly variable, depending on the geographical location (north versus south Cornwall and Devon coast), as well as the coastal setting (sandy beach, coastal dune, gravel beach and rocky coast). To complement the pre- and post-storm coastal surveys, CPRG researchers have also been collecting data during extreme storms at several sites using their Rapid Coastal Response Unit. These measurements, made using a variety of state-of-the-art instruments, provide unprecedented insights into the actual coastal erosion processes, as well as highlighting the potential for rapid recovery for the more resilient coastal systems.

Related Information:

NERC Urgency Grant Impacts of sequence of extreme storms during 2013/2014 winter on southwest coast of England