Happisburgh, on Norfolk's North Sea coast, is a village with a population of 1400 people in about 600 houses. The village contains a notable stone church dating from the 14th century, an impressive manor house, listed buildings and a famous red and white striped lighthouse (Figure 1).
Although now a coastal village, Happisburgh was once some distance from the sea, parted from the coast by the parish of Whimpwell, long since eroded away. Historic records indicate that over 250 m of land were lost between 1600 and 1850.
More recently the village was affected by the tragic floods of 1953 that claimed the lives of 76 Norfolk residents. Figure 2 gives an example of the rapid coastal erosion at Happisburgh.
Coastal defences built at Happisburgh have slowed down the rate of retreat. However, large sections are now in disrepair. Sea-level rise and climate change, including increased storminess, may also increase the rate of erosion. Agriculture and tourism contribute significantly to the economy of the village and surrounding hinterland although this is threatened by the receding cliff line that, prior to the construction of a rock embankment at the northern end of the survey site, had claimed at least one property per year plus significant quantities of agricultural land.
The cliffs at Happisburgh range in height from 6 to 10 m and are composed of a layer-cake sequence of several glacial tills (Figure 3), separated by beds of stratified silt, clay and sand (Hart, 1987; Lunkka, 1988; Hart, 1999; Lee, 2003). The basal unit within the stratigraphic succession at Happisburgh is the How Hill Member of the Wroxham Crag Formation. These deposits are typically buried beneath modern beach material but are periodically exposed following storms (Figure 3). They consist of stratified brown sands and clays with occasional quartzose-rich gravel seams that are interpreted as inter-tidal/shallow marine in origin.
Unconformably overlying these marine deposits are a series of glacial lithologies deposited during several advances of glacier ice into the region during the Middle Pleistocene (c.780 to 430 ka BP) (Lee et al., 2002; Lee et al., 2004). The survey site has a tripartite geological succession.
The Happisburgh Till Member, crops-out at the base of the cliffs and its base is frequently obscured by modern beach material: it has a maximum thickness of 3 m. The Happisburgh Till Member is a dark grey, highly consolidated till with a matrix composed of a largely massive clayey sand with rare (<1%) pebbles of local and far-travelled material.
The upper surface of the till undulates and comprises a series of ridges and troughs upon which the overlying Ostend Clay member outcrops. This unit is between 2.3 and 3.4 m thick and consists of thinly-laminated light grey silts and dark grey clays.
In turn, these beds are overlain by 2 to 4 m, of weak, stratified sand (Happisburgh Sand Member) with occasional silty-clay horizons.
It is likely that the Norfolk cliffs have been eroding at the present rate for about the last 5000 years when sea level rose to within a metre or two of its present position (Clayton, 1989). Therefore, the future predictions of sea level rise and storm frequency due to climate change are likely to have a profound impact on coastal erosion and serious consequences for the effectiveness of coastal protection and sea defence schemes in East Anglia in the near future (Thomalla and Vincent, 2003).
Rapid erosion of the cliffs at Happisburgh means that we can observe processes that for other sites may normally take thousands of years. This means that we can look for patterns in the erosion at Happisburgh, which may help our understanding of sites elsewhere that are eroding more slowly.
As part of a programme of work monitoring coastal erosion and landsliding at several sites around the coast of Great Britain, we are surveying the cliffs adjacent to the village of Happisburgh in Norfolk — see Terrestrial LiDAR Survey Techniques
The resulting computer model (Figure 4 ) enables volume calculations and observations to be made as to the way in which the coast is eroding. The results from the survey provide data for models of coastal recession.
From this survey, the following conceptual model has been proposed (Figure 5).
- In winter, erosion caused by groundwater as seen in the gullying of the cliff face, coupled with increased seasonal storminess, causes small-scale, frequent, shallow landsliding in the Happisburgh Sand Member. The Happisburgh Sand Member is easily eroded and undercutting of the cliff toe reduces slope stability and cliff failure occurs. The beach surface is low and scouring of the upper surface of the till extends the till platform.
- In summer, the beach surface is higher and covers the 'winter platform'. Wave attack is the dominant form of erosion accompanied by landsliding in the Happisburgh Sands.
The cliff surface profiles show that the erosion process is non-uniform, involving the cyclic formation of a series of embayments that continually enlarge (Figure 6). This could infer landsliding processes involving block falls, mudflows and running sand.
For more information on the results from this survey see:
Hobbs, P.R.N., Pennington, C.V.L, Pearson, S. G., Jones, L.D., Foster, C., Lee, J. R. & Gibson, A. (in press), Slope Dynamics Project Report: Norfolk Coast (2000-2006), British Geological Survey Open Report OR/08/018.
Poulton, C.V.L. 2004. Disappearing Coasts, Planet Earth, Volume Summer 2004, 26-27.
Poulton, C.V.L., Lee, J.R., Jones, L.D., Hobbs, P.R.N., and Hall, M. 2006. Preliminary investigation into monitoring coastal erosion using terrestrial laser scanning: case study at Happisburgh, Norfolk, UK: Bulletin of the Geological Society of Norfolk, 56, 45-65.
CAMBERS, G. 1976. Temporal scales in coastal erosion systems. Transactions Institute British Geographers, 1, 246-256.
CAMERON, T.D.J., CROSBY, A., BALSON, P.S., JEFFERY, D.H., LOTT, G.K., BULAT, J. & HARRISON, D.J. 1992. UK offshore regional report: The geology of the southern North Sea. British Geological Survey, Keyworth.
CLAYTON, K.M. 1989. Sediment input from the Norfolk cliffs, Eastern England - a century of coast protection and its effects. Journal of Coastal Research, 5, 433-442.
CLAYTON, K.M., MCCAVE, I.N. & VINCENT, C.E. 1983. The establishment of a sand budget for the East Anglian coast and its implications for coastal stability. In: Shoreline Protection. Thomas Telford Ltd, University of Southampton, 91-96.
COSGROVE, A.R.P., BENNETT, M.R. & DOYLE, P. 1998. The rate and distribution of coastal cliff erosion in England: a cause for concern? In: BENNETT, M.R. & DOYLE, P. (Eds), Issues in Environmental Geology: A British Perspective. The Geological Society, London.
GRAY, J.M. 1988. Coastal cliff retreat at the Naze, Essex since 1874: patterns, rates and processes. Proceedings of the Geologists Association, 99, 335-338.
HART, J.K. 1987. The genesis of the north east Norfolk Drift. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of East Anglia.
HART, J.K. 1999. Glacial sedimentology: a case study from Happisburgh, Norfolk. In: Jones, A, Tucker, M and Hart, JK (Eds), The Description and Analysis of Quaternary Stratigraphic Field Sections. Technical Guide 7, Quaternary Research Association, London, 209-234.
HIATT, M.E. 2002. Sensor Integration Aids Mapping at Ground Zero. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing, 68, 877-879.
HOBBS, P.R.N. 2008. Coastal cliff monitoring, GeoConnexion, June/July 2008.
HOBBS, P.R.N., HUMPHREYS, B., REES, J., TRAGHEIM, D., JONES, L., GIBSON, A., ROWLANDS, K., HUNTER, G. & AIREY, R. 2002. Monitoring the role of landslides in 'soft cliff' coastal recession. In: Instability Planning and Management. (Eds, McINNES, R.G. and JAKEWAYS, J.) Thomas Telford, Isle of Wight, 589-600.
HOBBS, P.R.N., PENNINGTON, C.V.L, PEARSON, S. G., JONES, L.D., FOSTER, C., LEE, J. R. & GIBSON, A. (in press), Slope Dynamics Project Report: Norfolk Coast (2000-2006), British Geological Survey Open Report OR/08/018.
HOOKE, J.M. & KAIN, R.J.P. 1982. Historical change in the physical environment: a guide to sources and techniques. Butterworth, London.
HR WALLINGFORD. 2001. Ostend to Cart Gap Coastal Strategy Study. EX 4342. November.
HR WALLINGFORD, 2002. Southern North Sea Sediment Transport Study Phase 2: Sediment Transport Report, Report produced for Great Yarmouth Borough Council by HR Wallingford, CEFAS/UEA, Posford Haskoning and Dr Brian D'Olier, Report EX 4526.
HULME, M., JENKINS, G.J., LU, X., TURNPENNY, J.R., MITCHELL, T.D., JONES, R.G., LOWE, J., MURPHY, J.M., HASSELL, D., BOORMAN, P., McDONALD, R. & HILL, S. 2002. Climate Change Scenarios for the United Kingdom: The UKCIP02 Scientific Report, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, 120pp.
LEE, J.R. 2003. Early and Middle Pleistocene lithostratigraphy and palaeoenvironments in northern East Anglia, UK. (Unpublished). Ph.D., University of London.
LEE, J.R., ROSE, J., HAMBLIN, R.J.O. & MOORLOCK, B.S.P. 2004. Dating the earliest lowland glaciation of eastern England: a pre-M1512 early Middle Pleistocene Happisburgh Glaciation. Quaternary Science Reviews.
LEE, J.R., ROSE, J., RIDING, J.B., HAMBLIN, R.J.O.& MOORLOCK, B.S.P. 2002. Testing the case for a Middle Pleistocene Scandinavian glaciation in Eastern England: evidence for a Scottish ice source for tills within the Corton Formation of East Anglia, UK. Boreas, 31, 345-355.
LEE, M. & CLARK, A. 2002. Investigation and management of soft rock cliffs. Thomas Telford.
LUNKKA, J.P. 1988. Sedimentation and deformation of the North Sea Drift Formation in the Happisburgh area, North Norfolk. In: CROOT, D. (Eds), Glaciotectonics: Forms and Processes. Balkema, Rotterdam, 109-122.
McCAVE, I.N. 1978. Grain-size trends and transport along beaches: examples from Eastern England. Marine Geology, 28, M43-M51.
McCAVE, I.N. 1987. Fine sediment sources and sinks around the East Anglian coast (UK). Journal of the Geological Society of London, 144, 149-152.
NICHOLLS, R.J. & WEBBER, B. 1987. Coastal erosion in the eastern half of Christchurch Bay. In: Bell, MG, Cripps, FG and O'Hara, M (Eds), Planning and Engineering Geology. Engineering Group Special Publications, 4, Geological Society, London, 549-554.
OHL, C., FREW, P., SAYERS, P., WATSON, G., LAWTON, P., FARROW, B., WALKDEN, M.& HALL, J. 2003. North Norfolk - a regional approach to coastal erosion management and sustainability practice. In: International Conference on Coastal Management 2003. (Ed, McInnes, RG) Thomas Telford, Brighton, 226-240.
PAUL, F. & IWAN, P. 2001. Data Collection at Major Incident Scenes using Three Dimensional Laser Scanning Techniques. In: The Institute of Traffic Accident Investigators: 5th International Conference held at York. New York.
PENNINGTON, C.V.L. & HOBBS, P.R.N. 2008. Coastal surveying techniques: a case study at Happisburgh, Norfolk, UK, GeoInformatics: magazine for surveying, mapping and GIS professionals, 6.
POULTON, C.V.L. 2004. Disappearing Coasts, Planet Earth, Volume Summer 2004, 26-27.
POULTON, C.V.L., Lee, J.R., Jones, L.D., Hobbs, P.R.N., and Hall, M. 2006. Preliminary investigation into monitoring coastal erosion using terrestrial laser scanning: case study at Happisburgh, Norfolk, UK: Bulletin of the Geological Society of Norfolk, 56, 45-65.
SHENNAN, I., COULTHARD, T., FLATHER, R., HORTON, B., MACKLIN, M., REES, J. & WRIGHT, M. 2003. Integration of shelf evolution and river basin models to simulate Holocene sediment dynamics of the Humber Estuary during periods of sea-level change and variation in catchment sediment supply. The Science of the Total Environment, 314-316, 737-754.
THOMALLA, F. & VINCENT, C.E. 2003. Beach Response to Shore-Parallel Breakwaters at Sea Palling, Norfolk, UK. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 56, 203-212.
THOMALLA, F., VINCENT, C.E. & BLACK, K. 2001. The effects of the segmented shore-parallel breakwaters at Sea Palling on the longshore transport of sand: lessons for the future. In: Proceedings of the 36th MAFF Annual Conference of River and Coastal Engineers. Keele University, 07.4.1-07.4.12.
WHITE, W. 1845. History, Gazeteer, and Directory of Norfolk 1845.
Contact the Landslide Response Team
British Geological Survey
Telephone: 0115 936 3143
Fax: 0115 936 3276
The Suffolk coastline of East Anglia has been eroding for 1000s of years and suffers rapid and frequent change - the changes are due to the coastal processes of erosion and deposition and the large scale movement of material down the coast by longshore drift.
Dunwich is a very small village located on the east coast in Suffolk. Dunwich was once a thriving port, similar in size to London, but storms, erosion and floods have almost wiped out this once prosperous settlement, which once had a population of 4,000 as well as a flourishing port. All that remains now are a few cottages - yet at one time there were 6 churches and 3 chapels. Most of old Dunwich now lies on the sea floor.
It is predicted that with our changing climate, storm events will become more frequent and in 1990, 7 metres of the coastline was lost over a few days in a storm that hit the Dunwich Coast.
So why is Dunwich so affected by coastal erosion?
- the coastline at Dunwich is made up of soft rock (sands, gravels and clays), these are easily eroded by the sea;
- the problem is made worse by the narrow beach which results in wave attack at the base of the cliff;
- the cliff faces are also greatly affected by weathering processes;
Rates of erosion at Dunwich are now as great as one metre per year. Material that is eroded from the Dunwich cliff line is moved down the coast by the process of longshore drift, keeping the beach fairly narrow. The material is transported in a N-S movement where it is deposited further south to form Orfed Ness Spit.
Although prone to severe coastal erosion, Dunwich has relatively little sea defence. An area of marshland just beyond the car park has been protected from the sea by a long shingle sea wall, but this has to be regularly rebuilt by bulldozers. Until recently there has been no other coastal management and the natural creation of a new beach to absorb wave energy has been seen as the most effective solution, due to the small size of Dunwich it has not be seen as cost effective to spend millions on sea defence at this location. However in February 2007, a new experimental beach stabilisation project began, it has been designed to try and reduce the severe cliff failures. A series of sand and shingle humps are to be created to stop the beach eroding and therefore help to reduce cliff erosion.
Another good example of coastal erosion is the Holderness Coast (Humberside)
Follow up links:
The Geology of Dunwich
Dunwich Photographs (Thanks to A Stacey "The Geography Department")
Low tide reveals lost city (BBC Article)
Work to shore up Beach to start (BBC Article)
Disappearing Village - sea claims another piece of Dunwich (Guardian Article from 1999)
Podcast: Case Study of Coastal Erosion - Dunwich
You can listen to a podcast of this post below - to download a copy to listen to on your .mp3 player click here.