Study into Murlough beach coastline

Study into Murlough beach coastline

20 May 2020

SCIENTISTS are carrying out a study at Murlough beach to find out why the Co Down coastline is changing.

The scientists from Ulster University say their findings will be used to predict future changes to help better plan how we will protect our fragile coastal environment.

It is hoped the study will show climate-related processes including rising sea levels and storms, alter the coastline.

The work is part of a €6.4 million European environment project that will develop plans to protect vulnerable marine habitats and species in waters between Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

Professor Derek Jackson, from Ulster University’s School of Geography and Environmental Sciences, said Murlough was an ideal study site.

“Naturally, our coasts are slowly changing,” he remarked. These changes are becoming more apparent when extreme weather events increase and sea levels rise. 

“Using ground-based survey technology, we can study relatively rapid changes in the movements of beach sands on this site. 

“Research to date has shown the once golden beach at the promenade at Newcastle have over the past few decades been pushed down the coast toward Ballykinlar through wave and tidal action. 

“With increased storm events we are studying how this may present itself in the near future.

Professor Jackson added: “As well as past and present movements, we are examining future scenarios of how heightened sea levels at the site will alter the coastline dynamics. 

“We are using Murlough Bay as a test bed for establishing coastal monitoring protocols for other sites in the region. These protocols will help advise any future science-led coastal management approaches we may adopt for protecting these vulnerable environments.”

Gina McIntyre, CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body, said the research being carried out will provide invaluable data to help protect Murlough Bay for many years to come. 

“It is one of the key environmental protection projects that will lead to better, more sustainable, marine conservation activities across Northern Ireland, Ireland and Western Scotland,” she said.

Dr Melanie Biausque, who can often be seen surveying the beach at low tide using a quad bike, explained what is done with the collected data. 

“We visit the site every month and for the next few years this will help generate a visualisation of surface height changes on the beach, telling us how waves move sand around under different wave events,” she said.

“These are incorporated in a computer model that should allow us to see how future storms will react with the underlying sandy seabed and beach.”

Another Ulster University researcher, Dr Edoardo Grottoli, has also been collating information of past changes of the coastal system in Murlough Bay using historical maps, past aerial photography and historical accounts of storm impact. 

He said: “Past events will show us to better understand how important patterns of change have unfolded through time and how the coastline is evolving to present and future positions.

“Society needs to understand the movement of the coast and the processes that drive the changes in order to protect our marine environment in the longer term.”