Shoreline morphological responses to climate change

Professor Mike Phillips

Coastal erosion is a global problem and Europe’s coast is under increasing threat with a fifth of the EU27’s coastlines severely affected to date. Research led by Prof Mike Phillips has focused on two overarching research themes: a) erosion causes and b) erosion impacts, mitigation and adaptation.

a) Coastal erosion: causes. Phillips’ research for the first time established an empirical relationship between the seaward (Depth of Closure) and landward (Mean High Water) limits of the active beach profile, and subsequently demonstrated that marine aggregate dredging was not responsible for beach erosion in South Wales.  Further work in this area subsequently showed how short-term beach rotation and wave climate are affected by the North Atlantic Oscillation and  established relationships between sea levels, wind speeds and directions, and the North Atlantic Oscillation, explaining how these interact to cause morphological change. Sea level predictions have been adopted for Severn Estuary flood risk and scenario management to 2050, while the work on storminess, trends and time-lagged coastal response are predicted to make a lasting contribution to shoreline management strategies.

b) Coastal erosion: impacts, mitigation and adaptation. Beach erosion poses a threat to all stakeholders, especially tourism which according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation is the world’s largest industry. Responding to these issues, Phillips undertook an assessment of erosion and tourism infrastructure in the coastal zone, evaluating potential problems and consequences with respect to climate change. Key findings highlighted a major economic issue of global importance. This has enabled the development of adaptation strategies under various risk based scenarios.  This  examines the importance of coastal zones to the tourism industry and shows that protecting resources is not only vital to national economies, but presents a growing global dilemma. This research has achieved significant global interest from a readership of policy makers, academia and industry.

For an overview of this research and policy area, please see Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Global Ocean Forum at Rio+20 2002-2012 in which Professor Phillips' contribitions are noted (p51)

In 2008, following an invite to attend their fourth conference Professor Phillips became a member of the Climate, Oceans and Security Working Group (COSWG) of theGlobal Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands (GFOCI).In his role Phillips has brought the issue of climate change and coastal tourism to the international policy agenda.

Phillips’ contribution to the global policy making process is seen in his contribution to the GFOCI summary document for decision makers given to world leaders at Rio+20. The Rio+20 Conference was a joint endeavour of the entire UN System which marked the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. It took place at the highest possible level, including 79 Heads of State and representatives from 191 countries. Its outcome, to which Phillip’s contributed, was a focused political document which was promoted by the United Nations Development Programme in pursuance of the Millennium Development Goals (1, 7 and 8).  

Further work evidencing the impact of Phillip’s work and contribution to the global policy making agenda is found in his participation in the EU-US Conference Series on Sustainable Oceans - Reconciling Economic Use and Protection, and the UK National Commission for UNESCO.

Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands

  • United Nations Environment Programme
  • United Nations Development Programme
  • UNESCO
  • Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission;
  • National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration;
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada;
  • Portuguese Committee for IOC;
  • South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission;
  • IOC Sub-Commission for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions;
  • Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia;
  • New Partnerships for Africa’s Development;
  • Centre of Ecology, Fisheries and Oceanography of the Gulf of Mexico;
  • Mexican Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources;
  • World Bank - Global Environment Facility
  • Dräger Foundation
  • European Commission, DG for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

a) Phillips, M.R. and Williams, A. T., 2007. Depth of Closure and Shoreline Indicators – Empirical Formulae for Beach Management. Journal of Coastal Research. Vol. 23(2): 487-500. 21 citations

b) Phillips M.R., 2008. Beach erosion and marine aggregate dredging: a question of evidence? The Geographical Journal. Vol 174(4): 332-343. 7 citations

c) Thomas, T., Phillips, M.R., Williams, A.T. Jenkins, R.E., 2011. Short-term beach rotation, wave climate and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). Progress in Physical Geography, Vol 35(3) 333–352. 11 citations.

d) Phillips, M.R., Rees, E.F. and Thomas, T., 2013. Winds, sea levels and NAO influences: An evaluation. Global and Planetary Change. Vol 100: 145-152. 1 citation.

e) Phillips, M.R. and Jones, A.L., 2006. Erosion & tourism infrastructure in the coastal zone: problems, consequences & management. Tourism Management. Vol. 27(3): 517-524. 91 citations.

f) Jones, A.L. and Phillips, M.R. (eds)(2011).Disappearing destinations: climate change and future challenges for coastal tourism. CABI, Wallingford, Oxford. 296pp. 20 citations

This work has informed sediment studies worldwide and underpinned a £611,000 Technology Strategy Board project in 2009 to find a technique for measuring the effects of coastal erosion under the sea surface and to consequently evaluate whether remedial action is possible or desirable (ASTEC)

This expertise has led to Professor Phillips being appointed as International Expert Advisor to the following Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia) funded projects: CLIVAGE (Climate variability and change: adaptation strategies for small islands); SMARTPARKS (Planning and Management System for Small Islands Protected Areas); and ADAPTARIA (Climate Change Modelling on Ria De Aveiro: Littoral Adaptation Strategy for Coastal and Fluvial Flooding).

It has informed research topics such as: Climate Change, Coastal Economies and People, Coastal Engineering, Coastal Planning, Destination Tourism, Ecology, Economics, Fetch Limited Environments, Hurricanes, International Tourism, Natural Hazards, Oceanic and Coastal Interactions, Poverty, Sedimentology, Social Justice, Strategic Environmental Assessment, Sustainable Tourism, Tourism Policy and Weather. Origins of citing authors include: Alabama, Alaska, Algarve, Australia, Baltic Sea, Barbados, Brazil, Caribbean, Caspian Sea, Cork, Cyprus, Delaware, Florida, France, Germany, Greece, Gulf of Aqaba, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Martinique, Matagorda Peninsula, Mediterranean, North Carolina, Philippines, Sicily, South Africa, South Wales, Spain, Sydney, Taiwan, Tanzania, Texas, Thailand and the UK.

Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts and Islands Volume of Symposium Session Summaries: Policy, Science and Technical Symposium.  UNESCO http://www.globaloceans.org/sites/udel.edu.globaloceans/files/symposium_4web.pdf

Oceans at Rio+20: How Well Are We Doing in Meeting the Commitments from the 1992 Earth Summit and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development? Summary for Decision Makers. Global Ocean Forum. http://www.globaloceans.org/sites/udel.edu.globaloceans/files/Rio20SummaryReport.pdf

GFOCI, 2013bNewsletter, June 2013. http://globaloceanforumsecretariat.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/undesaexpertgroup-june20132.pdf

GFOCI, 2013c. Newsletter, July, 2013. http://globaloceanforumsecretariat.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/gofnewsletter-july-2013.pdf

Fifth Global Ocean Conference, 2010.  http://www.youtube.com/user/2010globaloceans