Enabling the public sector to save money, innovate and make more effective policy decisions by using space technology and data

Case Study: UKGEOS – Earth Observation for Coastal Erosion and Accretion Monitoring

General Information

  • Provider: Ordnance Survey, Satellite Application Catapult, Environment Agency, Earth-i
  • Technology utilised: Earth observation (EO)
  • Thematic area: Environment Local Authorities and Devolved Administrations Natural Hazards
  • End user(s): DCLG, DEFRA, Local Authorities, Network Rail, DfT, Ordnance Survey, Environment Agency, JNCC, Water authorities and others


  • 2018

Billions of pounds of assets (houses, businesses, roads, railways, historical monuments, etc.) lie within 10 metres of our coastline. In some places, this coastline is eroding at 1.5m per year, putting these assets at risk of damage or destruction. Whilst the businesses and properties may have a price, the loss of jobs and misery of losing a family home have a much higher value. And how do you replace the site of a Neolithic settlement?

Understanding coastal erosion and accretion is the starting point to better managing our responses to these huge forces of nature. This study, initiated by UK Government Earth Observation Service (UK GEOS), funded by the Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP), led by Ordnance Survey and supported by Satellite Applications Catapult, Environment Agency, and Earth-i, investigates the issues associated with measuring tidelines and whether Earth Observation (EO) data and techniques can be used in a cost-effective manner.

Download the UK GEOS reportThis short feasibility study has shown that Earth Observation (EO) may have a role to play, as it has demonstrated that some lengths of tideline investigated match the existing standard. There are, however, anomalies where the difference is too large and these need to be resolved. Furthermore, there are several variables (e.g. barometric pressure, on/off-shore wind, slope of beach, etc.) which need to be better understood to determine how they impact the output.

EO data is developing at a phenomenal speed, with constantly improving spatial and temporal resolutions, and multispectral bands becoming more mainstream. These advancements, coupled with other technologies, will soon enable new and exciting capabilities. We have moved from surveyors plotting tidelines on maps, to using aircraft-based LiDAR sensors for digital systems; how long will it be before satellites in orbit around the Earth are providing these measurements on a regular basis?  

Download a copy of the report

Satellite-derived water/land boundaries and lidar derived MLWN boundary for SW of study site, Brands Bay in SE of Poole Harbour    SPOT-7 NIR channel with spatial error in derived MLWN overlaid