Drones reveal impact of storm surge

Drone photographs have been released mapping the magnitude of the damage caused to the British coastline by the biggest storm deluge for 60 years.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) have teamed up in an effort to record the impact of a tidal surge that devastated the East Anglian coast on 5 December last year by using remote-piloted aircraft.

Trevor Tolhurst, lead scientist on the project, said: "This project is a once in a lifetime opportunity to collect data to improve our understanding of the impacts of a severe natural event and investigate how these events are perceived and responded to.”

Although damage to flood defences was considerably lower in 2013 than in 1953, the aerial photographs recorded major alteration of the coastline, damage to sea walls, and saltwater flooding.  

"Due to their rarity, our understanding of the impacts of these large storm surges on coastal habitats is poor. It is essential that such events are included in the investigation of future changes to our coasts and in the development of appropriate response strategies,” said Tolhurst.

"But this is just the first step; longer-term work is required to determine how the coastal environment and local populace recover from such extreme events."

The project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, is addressing existing gaps in knowledge by examining coastal seawater flooding and the effects it has on vegetation, soil organisms, carbon and nitrogen cycles.

Tony Dolphin, coastal scientist and remote-aircraft pilot at CEFAS, said that the high-resolution images and topographic maps produced by the drones will allow them to calculate for the first time the amount of sediment that moves in these surges, and possibly even the direction and velocity of the flows.

"Coastal managers need this information to better understand why certain areas might be vulnerable to flooding and how to mitigate the effects.

"While data is still being processed and the projects findings won't be published until later in 2015, the effects of the surge are already becoming clearer."

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