Process-based understanding and prediction of morphodynamics in a natural coastal system in response to climate change – University of Copenhagen

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Process-based understanding and prediction of morphodynamics in a natural coastal system in response to climate change

In the future, the forcing exerted on coastal systems is expected to exacerbate with accelerating sea level rise and an increase in storm intensity and frequency. With changing environmental settings fundamental questions arise: Will natural resilience mechanisms maintain current system-state or will the systems shift to a completely different state?


Tidal inlets are common coastal systems along much of the world's coastlines and play an important role in coastal ocean processes by providing the link between coastal oceans/shelf seas and protected tidal lagoons/estuaries. By exchanging fresh and saline water, coarse and fine sediments, and dissolved matter as nutrients, tidal inlets play an essential role for maintaining an optimal biodiversity in estuarine ecosystems; and thereby being vital for fishing grounds, feeding and breading grounds of birds, and unique recreational areas. Being pathways to large harbours, tidal inlets are also socioeconomic life-nerves playing a central role in globalisation. As a result most tidal inlets have been modified, primarily to accommodate navigable depths, and only few remain natural coastal systems.

The overall objectives of the project are:

  • To generate a conceptual model for the complex morphodynamics and sand transport patterns in a natural tidal inlet system at various spatiotemporal scales.
  • To estimate the morphological changes in a natural tidal inlet system in response to various climate change scenarios by applying advanced numerical morphological models.

Being a natural coastal system the Knudedyb tidal inlet in the Danish Wadden Sea is the perfect natural laboratory for a process-based analysis and quantification and understanding of complex sand transport patterns and natural morphological changes. The project will encompass the highly dynamic main tidal channel and the adjacent intertidal flats of the tidal inlet system. The results will be placed in a global context as tidal influenced coasts are not confined to any specific climatic region.

Advancements in our understanding of complex coastal systems and the ability to predict their evolution are necessary to successfully develop sustainable management schemes, especially considering the increasing pressure on the coastal zone from both climate change and globalisation. The combination of high-resolution, high-precision spatiotemporal, process-based field observations with numerical modelling is a prerequisite to foster these advancements.