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Dynamics and Management of the Coastal Zone

Module titleDynamics and Management of the Coastal Zone
Module codeGEO3240
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Matteo Vacchi (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The world’s coastlines, dividing land from sea, are geological environments unique in their composition and the physical processes affecting them. Humans have been building structures throughout history at these dynamically active intersections of land and the oceans. Although coastlines were initially used for naval and commercial purposes, more recently recreation and tourism have increased activity in the coastal zones dramatically. The coastal environment constitutes a fragile, little known and complex ecosystem that is an important resource. The coast is thus widely recognized as one of the most complex and highly dynamic environmental systems. The module will analyse not only the processes of formation and shaping of coastal features but also the practice for coastal management. In fact, coasts represent key economic and ecological zones which pose intriguing questions for Geographers. At the same time, coasts have been, and continue to be, of great importance to humans, with a growing proportion of the global population gravitating towards coastal areas. Coastal environments are therefore under increasing pressure and risk, making coastal habitats, landforms and settlements vulnerable to a suite of environmental pressures including erosion, increase of severe storm events and sea-level rise. You will be introduced to the main coastal processes (i.e., nearshore hydrodynamics) and the associated landforms. Furthermore, you will learn how to reconstruct the past coastal modifications driven by both climatic and anthropic factors. You will be then introduced to the best practices for the management of the coastal areas in the context of the climate change. You will be able to critically evaluate existing methods for assessing the major threats for the coastal areas (e.g., increasing erosion, extreme storms, tsunamis, sea level rise). You be then able to define current and future coastal hazard as well as the best practices for the management of littoral areas of great economic or environmental value.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module introduces you to the techniques for the analysis of the littoral area and on the best practices for coastal management, with an emphasis on the mitigation of the current coastal hazard. The module will be rewarding for its mix of theory and cutting-edge research; content will include several examples from previous and active research projects involving the module convenor in many different sectors of the World`s coastline

The practical elements of the module should provide you with a set of desirable skills for further study or future employment in a range of careers focused on the management of the coastal areas: coastal processes and landforms, nearshore hydrodynamics, marine geo-archaeology, management of the marine protected areas, and environmental consultancy. 

The module aims are to provide you with:

  • a grounding in theoretical concepts of nearshore coastal processes, coastal landforms and investigation techniques for work in the different costal, shallow marine and transitional environments
  • the practical skills to use instrumental data, such as tidal gauges, GPS and satellites to define on-going sea-level changes and properly assess the role of coastal tectonics and isostatic rebound.
  • the practical skills to undertake direct and indirect data collection and interpretation of the coastal and shallow marine dataset (saltmarsh coring, scientific diving, LIDAR, single and multibeam, aerial photos,  side-scan sonar).
  • an ability to evaluate a range of solutions for mitigate coastal erosion, to manage the coastal and marine protected areas and to assess the current and future coastal hazard

The teaching on this module will draw substantially from research undertaken by the module convenor, on issues such as definitions of the current costal hazard, quantitative sea-level reconstructions, assessment of extreme storms and tsunami waves impact in the last millennia. You will also gain an appreciation of the pressures and hazards acting on the coastal systems and the resulting erosion vulnerability of coastal zones. The practices for coastal management will be explored using case studies, with an emphasis on the southern Devon coast.  You will be encouraged to critically evaluate existing methods for assessing coastal vulnerability and managing coastal erosion. This knowledge will be applied to a practical coastal management problem as part of individual project work.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Review and understand the physical processes that operate in the coastal zone (i.e. nearshore hydrodynamics)
  • 2. Recognise and understand the different landforms found in the coast, from the shallow subtidal to the supratidal zone
  • 3. Describe in detail the key processes influencing current and future vulnerability of both sandy and rocky coastlines at different latitudes
  • 4. Demonstrate skills in quantitative relative sea level reconstructions, and reporting of results in a professional manner
  • 5. Demonstrate practical ability in the scientific interpretation of on-land and shallow marine dataset from coastal zones (aerial photogrammetry, LIDAR, single and multibeam, side scan sonar etc)

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Use a diverse range of specialised approaches and techniques to collect, analyse and present information on the natural coastal environment as well as describe and apply these approaches to address real-world problems
  • 7. Describe, apply and evaluate the diversity of specialised techniques and approaches involved in analysing the coastal environment
  • 8. Apply logical thought in understanding how different processes of the coastal system are linked
  • 9. Critically assess the men-environment interactions in the coastal area over different time and space scales

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently by written and verbal means
  • 11. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 12. Identify, acquire, evaluate and synthesise data from a range of sources
  • 13. Undertake independent/self-directed study/learning to achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module is concerned with exploring the land-sea interface, and will follow a logical sequence of context, theory, practice and applications, split broadly into two parts. Several examples, from sites located at all latitudes will be used to support the different topic of the module.

Part 1. Coastal processes and landforms. In this part of the module will include an introduction to the nearshore hydrodynamics followed by a detailed description of the landforms characterizing the littoral area (from the dunes to the shallow subtidal area). Furthermore, the module will present the updated techniques to collect data in the coastal areas, the interactions between biotic and abiotic elements of the coast as well as the morphotectonic and  paleoseismic reconstructions in the coastal areas

Part 2 is focused on the techniques to define the current level of coastal hazard. In the module, a major focus will be on the techniques to properly assess the past coastal changes and predict future scenarios in the context of the climate change. Moreover, the module will focus on the best practices to manage the littoral zones with examples of soft and hard engineering structures to contrast coastal erosion as well as on the current National and Supranationals legislative frameworks to protect the coastal zones.

Anticipated module content:

Part 1: Coastal processes and landforms

  • Introduction to the hydrodynamics of the coastal zone
    • Swash zone dynamics (tides, waves, currents)
    • sediment characteristics and transports
    • equilibrium beach profile
  • coastal landforms dynamics
    • Rocky coasts
    • Sandy coasts
    • Wetlands, deltas and estuaries
  • Field measurement techniques and analysis
    • Direct surveys (saltmarsh coring, seafloor sediment sampling, scientific diving)
    • Indirect surveys (single and multibeam, aerial photos, LIDAR data, side-scan sonar)
  • Biogeomorphology of the coastal areas
    • Bioerosion of the rocky coast
    • Seagrasses and coastal dynamics
  • Morphotectonics and palaeoseismicity in the coastal areas

Part 2: Coastal hazard and management

  • Late Quaternary and contemporary global sea level changes
    • Eustasy and Isostasy
    • Instrumental data (tidal gauge, GPS, satellite altimetry)
  • Quantitative Relative Sea level reconstructions
    • Low energy coasts sea level indicators
    • High energy coasts sea level indicators
  • Knowing the past to predict future coastal hazard
    • Millennial reconstruction of extreme coastal events (extreme storms and tsunami)
    • Geo-archeological tools to reconstruct past coastal changes
  • Coastal Landform Dynamics and Management Implications
    • Beach nourishments
    • Hard engineering structures
  • Fieldtrip along the Devon coast (6 hours). Coastal landscape evolution. Coastal structures and management of coastal erosion
  • Environmental value of the coastal zones
    • Legislation and management of the Marine Protected Areas (MPA)
    • Legislation and management of the littoral area

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching19Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching81-day fieldtrip
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2Invited seminar
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Staff-led revision session in Term 3
Guided Independent Study120Reading for lectures, writing summative report, conducting formative assessments and revision for exams


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group oral presentation10 minutes4-10Peer and convenor feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination602 hours2-4, 6-13Written
Field report402000 words1-3, 6-13Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExamination2-4, 6-13August Ref/Def
Field reportReport1-3, 6-13August Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination or submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Bird, E. C. (2011). Coastal geomorphology: an introduction. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Dean, R. G., & Dalrymple, R. A. (2004). Coastal processes with engineering applications. Cambridge University Press.
  • Masselink, G., & Gehrels, R. (Eds.). (2014). Coastal environments and global change. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Shennan, I., Long, A. J., & Horton, B. P. (Eds.). (2015). Handbook of sea-level research. John Wiley & Sons.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Indicative journal articles:

  • Masselink, G., & Puleo, J. A. (2006). Swash-zone morphodynamics. Continental Shelf Research, 26(5), 661-680.
  • Wright, L. D., & Short, A. D. (1984). Morphodynamic variability of surf zones and beaches: a synthesis. Marine geology, 56(1-4), 93-118.
  • Dawson, R. J., Dickson, M. E., Nicholls, R. J., Hall, J. W., Walkden, M. J., Stansby, P. K., ... & Jordan, A. (2009). Integrated analysis of risks of coastal flooding and cliff erosion under scenarios of long term change. Climatic Change, 95(1-2), 249-288.

Key words search

Coast, littoral area, hazard, marine habitat, hydrodynamics, geomorphology, management

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date