Improving Urban Coastal Data to support Coastal Adaptation to Climate Change (UrbanCoastAdapt)


Globally, we can measure, predict and model the rates of soft coast erosion and sediment transport dynamics and methods of assessing mixed to coarse (cobble-boulder) beach sediment dynamics are improving. However, we lack an understanding of the composition, erosion and sediment transport rates of artificial made ground – land that was created by extending into and/or reclaimed from the sea. This project will directly address a globally pressing and unanswered question: how toxic is this made ground, what is its sediment composition and how fast does it erode and mix into the more natural coastal sediment system? These data are of growing importance as we adapt to coastal climate change risks along urbanised coasts. The most recent IPPC report on Oceans and the Cryosphere (IPCC, 2019) clearly shows sea levels will continue to rise until 2300 and (landward) retreat is one of the six recommended responses to maintain community resilience in the face of sea level rise. Without data on the nature, erosive capacity and transport rates of former made or reclaimed urban ground, it is difficult to assess risk, to determine if it is possible to allow this made ground to ‘retreat’ by allowing erosion and coastal realignment to a more natural position. This retreat option has the potential to reduce the requirement for expensive hard coastal protection (and the embodied carbon cost of it) and to allow us to live more sustainably with a dynamic coast – but a lack of data on the erosion risk and rates is hampering discussions about the viability or implementation of such a retreat option along urbanised coasts.

To our knowledge, there has been very limited work worldwide on the characteristics, variability and chemical composition of made ground that was used historically to extend land into the sea. Whilst there are land-based assessments of contaminated land on ‘brownfield’ sites scheduled for redevelopment, these are not routinely carried out on urban made ground. This ground is often post-industrial, is currently derelict or has light industrial use which is often identified by planners as suitable land for ‘regeneration’. This land is also often low-lying and fronted by coastal and estuarine engineering structures that are coming to the end of their design life. This gives society a choice – do we continue to defend this low-lying land, at risk with rising sea levels, or do we look to return this land to the sea? If we want to consider the latter, then more data are needed on the composition, erosivity and rates of sediment transport of this often highly heterogeneous ‘made ground’.

Click on an image to expand

Image Captions

Fig 1: Thames Estuary in London showing an example of made ground along an estuary edge.
Fig 2: Example of made ground erosion products (e.g. bricks at the feet of the Artecology team for scale) along Edinburgh’s coast.

Photo Credits: Dr Larissa Naylor


This project will use cutting edge geomorphological, geochemistry and coastal processes science to address this question. A combination of laboratory analysis of sediment characteristics and geochemistry, remote and field monitoring techniques of erosion and transport rates, meteorological and oceanographic data, alongside numerical modelling, statistical and spatial analysis will be used to generate novel understanding of made ground erosion risk, rates and dynamics of made ground sediment when it enters the coastal system. Given the need and novelty of this project, it is expected that high quality, high impact papers and policy briefings would be generated by this project.

Project findings will not only enhance process-based understanding of the erosion, sediment transport and composition of reclaimed land, it will also directly contribute to a gap in our evidence base for managing coastal erosion risk and delivering public bodies climate change adaptation targets in Scotland (a requirement in Scottish Law). It will also improve our spatial understanding of the extent of artificial made ground at the coast in Scotland and Northern England, complementing the dataset on the number of coastal landfills at risk of erosion in England.

To achieve this the student will be supervised by an award-winning, internationally world leading multi-institutional team composed by scientists in the Universities of Glasgow (Naylor, Hurst), Stirling (Loureiro) and Queen Mary (Spencer). The student will also gain experience in sediment geochemistry analyses with the support of Spencer (at Queen Mary University) and other researchers at the University of Glasgow.

Project Timeline

Year 1

Literature review (M1-3); compilation and validation of existing mapping and site investigation datasets, creating a mapping dataset of made ground along naturally eroding coasts for Scotland and Northern England (M4-6); sampling design, site selection and arranging permissions for sampling (M7-9); preliminary field investigations to test sampling methods (M9-12). Attendance of British Society for Geomorphology postgraduate workshop and annual conference. Writing up the literature review and reclaimed land erosion risk mapping for academic journal.

Year 2

Field and remotely-sensed (UAV) data collection (M13-17); laboratory analysis of sediment and drafting of baseline geochemistry and composition results (M18-21); field and remotely-sensed monitoring of reclaimed land erosion and sediment transport rates (M22-M24). Attendance of European Geosciences Union annual conference, and submitting the sediment composition and geochemistry paper.

Year 3

Analysis of sediment transport data and combined laboratory and field results (M25-30); drafting of results for publication (M31-33); preliminary modelling of erosion and sediment transport characteristics of reclaimed land (M33-36). Attendance of Coastal Sediments 2023 international conference.

Year 3.5

Finalise the writing of manuscripts/chapters; submit thesis (M37-42).

& Skills

The student will receive extensive training-trough-research under the guidance of the award-winning, world leading supervisory team, which will be complemented by specific training activities to equip the student with the skills and expertise to become an independent researcher. Specific training in research methods, including programming with Matlab/Python for statistical analysis, image processing and data integration; GIS for spatial analysis; fieldwork design and instrumentation; numerical modelling with SWAN and XBeach and sediment geochemistry and composition laboratory analyses. These will be complemented by training in core scientific skills (writing, presentation and science communication) and transferable skills (data management, task coordination and exploitation of results with end users). The student will also work with local government and government agency staff to determine what their data needs and requirements are for erosion risk of reclaimed land, and to identify how these improved data can support coastal climate change adaptation decision-making. The lead supervisor has extensive knowledge exchange experience which she will share with the student.

The student will also participate in IAPETUS2 training and events, which will complement the personal training plan. The student will also benefit from the extensive and growing research networks the supervisory team have, and get the opportunity to participate in some of these larger externally-funded projects if they wish to do so, to further enhance their future employability and training experiences.

References & further reading

Bon de Sousa (Loureiro) et al., 2018. Applied Geography 99, 31-43. doi: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2018.07.023
Brand, J.H. and Spencer, K.L. 2017. Assessing the risk of pollution from historic coastal landfills. Executive Summary for the Environment Agency.
Brown (Hurst) et al. 2016. Journal of Environmental Management. 184(Pt. 2), pp. 400-408. (doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2016.09.090)
Naylor et al. 2017. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. 42(1), pp. 166-190. (doi:10.1002/esp.4062)
Naylor et al. 2017. E-prints.
Preston (Hurst) et al. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. 43(11), pp. 2421-2434. (doi:10.1002/esp.4405)

Further Information

Applications: to apply for this PhD please use the url:

For informal enquiries, or if you are interested in applying, contact Dr Larissa Naylor (

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