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Revision blog: coastal landscapes

Coastal Landscapes: A Dynamic Interface of Change

Coastal landscapes are dynamic environments, in a continuous state of change driven by both natural and human activities. The natural processes of erosion and sedimentation, sea level rise and anthropogenic intervention all have profound effects on shaping the coastline. This blog will give an overview into the causes, impacts and mitigation strategies of coastal change and is intended as a guide for revision or initial knowledge acquisition for those new to coastal environments. Do check out or extensive range of geography tutoring packages, where we delve deeper into all subject areas to help you boost those grades!


Natural Processes of Change

Erosion and sedimentation are fundamental processes that influence the littoral landscape. Erosion is the process by which soil and rock are removed from the Earth's surface by natural processes such as wind or water flow. Important erosion types pivotal in shaping coastal environments include:

1.       Aeolian erosion (the removal of material through wind action);

2.       Hydraulic action (the removal of material through wave action);

3.       Abrasion (the removal of material through rocks and other materials being carried by waves and hitting the coastline);

4.       Attrition (the process of rocks being broken down into smaller particles);

5.       Solution (material chemically dissolved).


These losses overtime create distinct landforms such as arches (Durdle Door, Dorset), stacks (Old Harry, Dorset), sea cliffs, and wave-cut platforms. Conversely, sedimentation is the accumulation of material in the environment, where sediment is deposited by fluvial and coastal currents. Resultant features of sedimentation include beaches, bars, spits, barrier islands and deltas. These natural processes operate in a delicate balance, constantly reshaping coastal environments.

Sea level Rise and Climate Change

Sea level rise is largely attributed to climate change. As global temperatures increase, ice sheets and glaciers shrink and the resulting meltwater is discharged into the sea or ocean. This, along with the thermal expansion of seawater as it warms, leads to rising sea levels. The impacts of rising sea levels can clearly be seen, as coastal communities seek to mitigate increased threats from intensified erosional processes which can cause rapid coastal retreat, together with increased likelihood of storm surges, inundation of low-lying areas and subsequent economic and habitat loss. Effective mitigation strategies and adaptation will be fundamental to reduce risk and protect fragile ecosystems.


Human Impacts and Alterations

Human activity also plays a profound role in sculpting our coastlines. Urbanisation, industrial development and agricultural activities can result in pollution, habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, biodiversity loss, and the disruption of natural processes. Coastal engineering structures designed to reduce erosion, such as groynes, sea walls and breakwaters, alter the patterns of sediment transport and deposition and often lead to exacerbated erosion in adjacent cells (the coast is divided into littoral cells where the sediment budget is measured). Further anthropogenic alterations to coastal landscapes are caused by activities such as sand mining and dredging, which deplete sediment sources, potentially leading to beach erosion and habitat degradation.

Management and Conservation

Effective management of coastal landscapes requires a holistic approach that integrates environmental and socio-economic considerations. Conservation should focus on preserving natural habitats and restoring degraded areas, and enhancing resilience to climate change impacts through practices such as mangrove reforestation, the building of artificial reefs and the restoration of natural buffers. Green infrastructure and managed retreat are sustainable coastal development strategies that can be implemented to help minimise environmental degradation while accommodating human needs. Educational campaigns through community workshops and outreach events, play a significant role in raising awareness about the importance of coastal ecosystems and measures that can be employed to protect these areas. A collaborative approach to management is essential. Partnerships between governments, NGOs, local communities and businesses are invaluable for leveraging diverse perspectives and pooling resources and expertise to more effectively manage coastal landscapes.


Coastal landscapes are complex and dynamic systems, influenced by both natural and human processes. As coastal environments and communities face increasing challenges due to the impacts of climate change, conservation and sustainable costal development will be critical and their effectiveness will be dependent on the willingness of different stakeholders to collaborate to ensure the long-term viability of these invaluable ecosystems for future generations.

If you have found this blog useful for your studies, why not sign up for one of our geography tutoring packages? We offer support for students at all levels to help you maximise your knowledge and understanding and push your geography grades skywards!

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