Monitoring Coastal Cliff Falls with Drones

Jan 28, 2020 | Condition Survey, Discussion, Education

Based in Norfolk, we’re all too aware of the ongoing erosion of our coastline and the immediate threat that this poses to our coastal communities. We’ve been using our drones for the past few years to monitor the rate of erosion at a number of points along the Norfolk coast.  We also use our drones to carry out detailed ‘inter-tidal’ mapping along the Suffolk coast.

We’re all used to seeing small cliff falls and slumping which are not news-worthy in their own right but larger falls, such as the one at Sidestrand before Christmas and the more recent January slip at Trimingham, can grab our attention and remind us how fragile our coastline actually is. We headed over to Trimingham immediately after the fall and used our drones to quickly and safely gather accurate data without disrupting the important safety operations that were continuing on the ground. This has allowed us to produce a 3D model of the slip, which really helps to illustrate the scale of the fall.

Cliffs crumble for many reasons, but the rise in sea levels that accompanies global warming will certainly threaten more and more of our coastline and low-lying land. A newly released interactive map produced by Climate Central uses the very latest available height data to help to illustrate the potential global impact of sea level rise. The map allows you to set best and worst case scenarios about cuts in CO2 emissions as well as to try out different predictions for sea level rise.

Flooding in River Wensum valley

Aerial photo of the Wensum River from HexCam’s offices after heavy rainfall in January 2020, one of the areas expecting significant rising water by 2030

What becomes clear very quickly is that ‘business as normal’ when it comes to CO2 emissions will have a significant impact on our coast with the lowest-lying areas of the Fens and Broads facing the biggest threat. We believe that zero net carbon by 2050 is not ambitious enough and that more rapid cuts in our CO2 emissions are needed.

We’ll continue to use our drones to help monitor our coastline but we’re also now proud to be using them to help with the development, installation and maintenance of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Fast, accurate data is essential when dealing with a rapidly changing world and drones have a huge role to play.