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Marsh mission could help combat coastal erosion

Fieldwork site at Warton, Morecambe Bay

Researchers from the University of Cumbria are among a team working to discover why some salt marshes are more resilient than others when it comes to weathering storms and coping with rising sea levels.

There is concern at the rate at which erosion of these essential ‘buffers’ is taking place; a marsh at Warton on the northern side of Morecambe Bay is said to have retreated by 250metres in five years.

Next week samples taken from the Lancashire coast will be analysed at one of the worlds’ largest indoor flumes, an apparatus which enables the effects of storms to be replicated under laboratory conditions, at the Leibniz University in Hannover.

“We need to learn why it is that some marshes are resilient yet others aren’t,” Dr Simon Carr, a geographer at the University of Cumbria’s Ambleside campus who will be overseeing the tests said. “We’ll also be taking sediment samples from Tillingham on the Thames which is more resilient to try and identify what makes this the case.”

The project began earlier this year and was commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council as part of a scheme known as RESIST(UK) which stands for ‘Response of Ecologically-mediated Shallow Intertidal Shores and their Transitions to extreme hydrodynamic forcing in UK settings.’

Dr Carr at the Ambleside campus of the University of Cumbria

Dr Carr is working colleagues from Cambridge University, Queen Mary University, the Universities of Braunschweig and Hamburg in Germany, the University of Antwerp in Belgium and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ.)

Next week state of the art CT scans may also reveal in 3D detail more clues about the reasons for erosion.

“We’ve learned that managed realignment rather than hard engineered solutions aids coastal defences but not enough is known about salt marshes yet,” Dr Carr said. “Hopefully by identifying what elements are needed to encourage marshes to prosper will enable them to be fully incorporated into the planning and management of coastal protection schemes.”

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