Coastal Evolution

Coastal environments change over time. Their current and future shape is strongly determined by how they evolved. Understanding the changing nature of the landscape through time also gives insight into the response coastal environments will take in the future.

Current research into this theme includes:

Sedimentary processes on sandy coasts in southern Australia

Low-lying coastal plains on which settlements and infrastructure are located in southern Australia are vulnerable to inundation and shoreline erosion. This project will examine subsurface sedimentary records of key coastal plains in NSW, Vic and SA, combining geospatial techniques (morphological analysis from LiDAR, aerial photo and image analysis), geophysical imaging of stratigraphy (GPR, coring) and geochronology (OSL, C14, AAR dating) to examine how the coast has formed, particularly the significance of sediment availability and response to past storms and sea-level changes. This project will assess vulnerability of these and adjacent coasts to hazards, and provide geomorphological evidence to support better planning and management.

Funder: Australian Research Council (Discovery Program)

Key Collaborators: Geological Survey of Japan, University of Wollongong, Geoscience Australia, George Mason University.



Rocky Coast Evolution and Dynamics

Rocky coasts comprising of cliffs and shore platforms comprise 75% of the world’s coastline. They are erosional landforms, however understanding their evolution is difficult as the timeframe of erosion is highly variable. Cliffs may remain steady for centuries only to collapse catastrophically in a matter of minutes which shore platforms may slowly erode at less than a millimetre per year.

Their evolution is driven by the relative balance of marine & subaerial processes acting over rocks of variable hardness. Quantifying the rates of erosion and the boundary conditions of these systems is a key research focus of the Laboratory.

Research is currently underway in Victoria and New South Wales, Australia, North Yorkshire U.K., New Zealand and Niue. Projects include investigating decadal-scale platforms erosion using the microerosion metre sites of Edmund Gill installed in the late 1970’s. Wave probes are also being installed to understand energy transformations, and classic geomorphic analysis of the latest aerial LiDAR surveys is being undertaken. A recent highlight of this research has been the discovery of the Drowned Apostles.


Funder: Australian Research Council, Durham International Fellowship/EU, Regional and Local Authorities.

Key Collaborators: Otago University, Auckland University, Durham University, Glasgow University, Surf Life Saving Australia, Deakin University, University of Wollongong.



Estuarine sedimentation

Estuaries are highly sensitive lagoons on the coast and are a focus of human economic and recreational activity. They are a basin which naturally infills with sediment from the surrounding hinterland. As a result they undergo many different geomorphic stages and this can be recorded in the sedimentary record. Coring an estuary gives a record of changes in a catchment, and can help predict both the impact of past and present human activities on estuaries. Estuaries also contain many unique coastal habitats: saltmarsh, mudflats, sandflats, seagrass beds and mangroves. These low lying environments are vulnerable to rising sea levels. The stage of infill of an estuary will also dictate the hazard of flooding events with high rainfall and storm surge. Current research is focused on understanding the evolution of estuarine systems and the human impact on sedimentation.

Key Collaborators: Dr Vanessa Wong, Dr Ruth Reef, Dr Allyson O’Brien, Dr Sarah McSweeney.