18th October

‘Star Trek’ technology for coastal surveys

Armed with a sophisticated hand-held Global Positioning System (dGPS) enabled data logger on board a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) in Cork Harbour, researchers in CMRC (the Coastal and Marine Resources Centre, UCC), have demonstrated that conducting detailed coastline surveys from the water is a cost effective alternative to traditional terrestrial surveys, reports Vicki O’Donnell, CMRC

Working with scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), with whom UCC signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2003, the Geographical Information System (GIS) Group has developed tools to create a comprehensive database of shoreline features.


The Irish coastline is approximately 7,500km long (44% being composed of sand/mud) and has roughly 400 estuaries. The natural habitats of the shoreline are very varied, and the species living there have adapted to the harsh conditions found at the land-sea divide.

In order to implement planning and management of the coastline, which in Ireland is ultimately the responsibility of the relevant County Council (for coast to inland planning, management and conservation purposes) and Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (from coast - seawards), reliable baseline data must be available to relevant actors.

CMRC identified a gap in national data holdings and decided to create reliable and useful baseline data. The coastal inventory offers tools to facilitate monitoring, management, development and conservation of coastal habitats through the creation of a coastal feature and situation database. This new spatial dataset is invaluable to coastal engineers, spatial planners, port authorities and developers.

The coastal inventory is a homogeneous, comprehensive and updateable spatial database offering high-resolution information. The dataset supplies information on shoreline conditions in the immediate coastal, estuary and riparian zones covering:

shoreline makeup (revetments, sea walls, beaches, docks, rocky shores etc)
shoreline features (jetties, piers, pontoons, steps, ladders etc)
shoreline vulnerability (state of repair, conditions, erosion etc) and
land use behind shoreline (agriculture, industry, residential, amenity etc)
Data dictionary and data collection
A data dictionary is created in pathfinder office software and is transferred to a field dGPS, a Trimble GeoXT, before fieldwork commences. A database of the possible shoreline types, features, conditions and land use is built up in-house before being used in the field. The database comprises a number of discrete elements that can be combined to output a variety of datasets in the post-processing phase. Once the database is transferred to the Trimble GeoXT, the shoreline information is collected from a RIB.

Data processing
GIS is used both as an intermediary mechanism to collect shoreline feature and situation data, and as the principal device to house the coastal inventory database. The data is downloaded, quality controlled, cleaned and exported to a GIS format before being post-processed using various methods including high-resolution imagery.

The coastal inventory can also be used in synergy with many other marine and coastal datasets and model outputs. Much research today focusses on coastal change and sea level rise. Models are continuously being developed and refined to identify areas that are vulnerable from the changes in sea level. By integrating model output with data on shoreline type and features, recommendations can be made on how best to protect the shoreline, and a greater understanding can be had of the transformation of the dynamic interface between land and sea.

An essential tool for the Water Framework Directive?
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) sets a framework for comprehensive management of water resources in the European community within a common approach and with common objectives, principles and basic measures. The WFD deals with surface waters, estuarine and coastal waters and groundwater. The coastal inventory dataset has the capability to directly support the implementation of a number of the objectives of the WFD.

Project status
The three-year funded project is now complete, and the Cork Harbour inventory dataset is available free of charge to interested parties. This project was funded under the Higher Education Authority, PRTLI II programme. Thanks to Cork County Council for access to spatial data.

Further details from: Vicki O’Donnell: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Coastal & Marine Resources Centre, University College Cork, Haulbowline Naval Base, Cobh, Co. Cork. Tel: 021 4703118 Fax: 021 4703132 http://cmrc.ucc.ie

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