Researchers map 193 years of Northern Ireland coastline changes

The project has been examining changes to the coastline. Credit: Ulster University

A map of Northern Ireland's changing coastline has been produced for the first time, following research by Ulster University.

The project saw a detailed examination of the region's shifting shorelines over the last 193 years.

Researchers used historical maps and aerial photographs to painstakingly examine what changes have taken place from historical times to the present day.

Lead researcher on the project, Professor Derek Jackson, said the work will give experts "a much better scientific basis from which to manage these sites in the future".

He said: "Shoreline change data tells us where erosion (or even build-up) of sediments has occurred, and this can help better advise any future planning decisions or other uses of particular stretches of the coast."

The project, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs took over a year to complete.

Each 25-metre section of the NI coastline was investigated for positional changes.  

Among the materials used by researchers were the first detailed Ordnance Survey coastal maps from around 1830, vertical aerial photographs from the 1950s, and a recent coastal topographic LiDAR survey from DAERA.

Co-investigator on the project, Professor Andrew Cooper, said: “The largest shoreline advancements recorded in the last two centuries along the Northern Ireland coastline were all induced by human modifications.

"Such as extensive land reclamation in sea loughs, construction or expansions of ports and harbours, power stations, wastewater treatment areas or touristic facilities.

"Rocky coasts, apart from limited rockfalls, were less subject to large scale changes as were shorelines not influenced by human-modified in sea loughs.

"Minor changes were also recorded in the offshore islands.

"The largest ‘natural’ shoreline erosion levels were recorded on the western side of Magilligan Point in Co Londonderry,, while the largest shoreline advancement over the last two centuries was found in at Murlough’s sand spit in Co Down."

The work undertaken is part of a series of recent initiatives by DAERA to gather detailed information on the coast.

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