Project Description

All coastlines are subject to dynamic change through wave and wind action resulting in significant loss or gain of land through erosion and/or accretion. Many areas around the World are increasingly being exposed to such threats resulting in partial or complete loss of assets in the most severe cases. In the future, climate change will likely accelerate the rate of coastline change with rising sea levels and more frequent and energetic storms. 

Widespread evidence of climate change impacts on coasts around the world, when coupled with increasing demands being placed on dwindling management budgets, and the need to protect valuable coastal assets suggests the need for new more cost-effective approaches to local coastal management problems.   

Focus on developing new low-cost environmentally sustainable solutions will be important. This research project will design, model, implement and test a novel coastal engineering solution for the protection of coastal assets at risk, specifically golf courses. A hybrid-protection solution using sustainable materials bound into a flexible and tethered structure, allowing wind- and water-borne material to penetrate, and be captured by the structure, will be developed, and tested. This will be a low-cost structure that can be easily installed, maintained, and managed at the local community level. 

The proposed structure will need to be tested over time, in different locations, and under different conditions. To achieve this, the structure will first be modelled using mathematical engineering software. This will facilitate refinement of the design and permit testing of the structural integrity of the platform, its flexibility and any stresses exerted, and will help to optimise the physical structure for placement in different coastal locations. The final structure will be constructed using sustainable materials. A tethering system will also be designed to hold the structure in place. 

Two structures are currently installed at Moray GC and Royal Aberdeen GC. Discussions are in progress for installation and testing at other sites in Montrose and NW England. Coastal modelling, wave over-topping and wave climate models (SWAN), as well as software MIKE21 and GIS will be used to appraise performance of existing and future structures using Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA). In this way data gathered from the installations will be used to optimise designs. 

Testing of the structure will require in-situ monitoring.  The potential for equipping the structures with onboard smart sensors to monitor stresses, strains and structural deformation over time is being pursued, whilst aerial drone camera sensors will be used to acquire aerial images and to generate mosaics and 3D models to establish environmental baselines. This will allow spatio-temporal changes to be monitored and the derivation of quantitative measurements (e.g. volumetric change) in the soft coastline both at and adjacent to the trial sites. This will provide valuable insight to the optimal design and positioning of coastal protection structures. 

Essential & desirable candidate skills

Essential: This is an applied research project requiring a combined background in environmental engineering and the geospatial sciences: with engineering, modelling, programming, GIS, geostatistics, and remote sensing knowledge, understanding and expertise

Desirable: an interest in the role of drones and their application is desirable, as is coastal and environmental management. Practical support/training will be provided by the University (AICSM, GIS, and UCEMM), DroneLite (drone company), the CASE partner and collaboration with R&A and local authorities. 


David R. Green

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: David R. Green
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Jennifer McKinley

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Jennifer McKinley
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment

Dmitri Mauquoy

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Dmitri Mauquoy
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Additional Supervisor:

Dr. Brian BurnhamSenior Remote Sensing Scientist – APEM Ltd (  (GIS, Visualisation, Data, Geology)


Fitton, J.M., Hansom, J.D., and Rennie, A.F., 2016. A national coastal erosion susceptibility model for Scotland. Ocean & Coastal Management. Volume 132:80-89. 

Masselink, G., and Russell, P., 2013. Impacts of climate change on coastal erosion. MCCIP Science Review. 2013:71-86.  

Expected Training Provision

Training provision will include on-campus, in-situ and online training activities delivered in part by the supervisory and advisory team to provide background and contextual knowledge, understanding and expertise needed for the PhD candidate to undertake the research project.  

Training may include some or all of the following: 

University Doctoral Induction Courses – provided as a requirement of the PhD.

Specialised training in aspects of the proposed research where the candidate requires a detailed knowledge and understanding of the context and background of the proposed research study. This will include: 

  • The basics of Geographical Information Systems software e.g. ArcGIS that can be provided in-house e.g. through courses provided by the MSc in GIS Degree Programme which will include Cartography and Digital Mapping, Geospatial Analysis, Geo-statistics, and some environmental modelling.
  • Remote Sensing and Digital Image Processing: e.g. through courses provided by the MSc in GIS Degree Programme 
  • Drone image acquisition, image processing, mosaicing and softcopy photogrammetry. AICSM, GIS and UCEMM have access to a number of software packages and tutorials e.g. Pix4D, Global Mapper to assist in developing the basic knowledge and understanding of stereo-aerial photographic image processing and softcopy photogrammetry. 
  • Drone training. This can be provided in-house using Flight Simulation software, the acquisition of UAV theory and practice. The latter can be provided by DroneLite a commercial drone operator and qualified pilot in-kind and for a small fee.
  • Additional engineering background can be provided through links to the Engineering School e.g. Professor Tom O’Donoghue, and Ray Lawrenson (Chartered Engineer) at Siskin Asset Management. It is expected that they will also provide some detailed training about the engineering structure, its installation and in situ monitoring (with the help of Ray Lawrenson, Siskin Asset Management).
  • Additional knowledge about the importance of monitoring and protecting golf courses will be provided by R&A.
  • Supervision will include continual guidance in the writing of the research proposal, conference papers and posters, as well as journal paper critique and the writing of journal papers for publication. Graphic communication skills will also be included as the basis for communication with the aid of posters to a wide range of audiences g. Local Authorities, Golf Couse Management etc.
  • It may also be possible – time permitting – to provide some basic training in research project management, time management, funding proposal writing and costing. 


This research involves design, development, installation, and monitoring of a novel sustainable engineering structure for low-cost protection of coasts vulnerable to impacts of climate change. The concept proposed has potential to revolutionise coastal protection/management by combining a semi-rigid hard-engineering and soft-engineering approach (a flexible hard structure) low-cost to produce, maintain/replace, as well as being sustainable, with potential to be deployed easily anywhere along a coastline in developed and developing countries.  

The research proposed is a proof-of-concept approach involving development and refinement of structural design, temporal monitoring (impact, flexibility, stresses, tethering, retention), and resilience to wave impact, currents, and wind.  

A novel part of the research is the engineering structure ‘on-board’ sensors to allow data collection about the flexibility/rigidity, stresses/movement of the structure in-situ over time. This data will be supplemented with drone-based aerial monitoring/image acquisition to (a) monitor/model the spatial nature/context of the site environment(s) e.g. the coastal status from a temporal pre-installation baseline over time, and (b) monitor the engineering structure e.g. its spatial location and position over time.  Aerial monitoring/modelling of study site(s)/engineering structure will provide a high-resolution 3D-model of relationships between the structure/environment over space/time. Inclusion of geospatial datasets/mathematical models of the coast e.g. sediment movement/wave-climate modelling will provide a more holistic context to support improved knowledge/understanding of the relationship(s) between climate change, local coastal dynamics, factors responsible for observed coastal change, and the impact of a coastal engineering structure.  

This integrated approach will provide the basis for a better understanding/explanation of the effectiveness of the engineering structure for coastal protection over time. This will be enhanced through Implementation/testing of the engineering structure at multiple different locations with either similar or different environmental conditions helping to determine the generic effectiveness of this novel engineering structure.  

Proposed Timetable

The project with be developed over 42 months. In the first 6 months (Year 1) the project will focus on completing induction courses, developing a full research proposal template, including a detailed literature review, selection of study sites, software training e.g. for geostatistical analysis and modelling (environmental and engineering), acquisition of spatial datasets to contextualise the study sites, and drone flying for aerial monitoring of study locations/sustainable engineering structures.  

Installation of sustainable engineering structures will be planned for the first 6 months of Year 1, complete with installation of in-situ monitoring sensors and ground-control for spatial data collection with the drones, allowing at least 2.5 complete seasons of monitoring. In-situ along with drone data collection will begin in month 7 through month 42. Drone imagery will be collected, processed, mosaiced and stereo aerial imagery used to generate 3D models of the study sites to understand the spatio-temporal changes in structure location and the impact on the coastal location. Data processing, storage, and analysis, with geostatistical analysis and environmental modelling, and continue throughout the entire research timeframe and used to understand how the coastal environment changes and evolves over time from pre-installation of the engineering structure to installation and beyond. Coastal change over time will be explained in conjunction with other sources of spatial data, including output from mathematical models e.g. wave climate e.g. SWAN, and coastal sediment erosion e.g. SBAS models and access to spatial modelling software e.g. MIKE21. 

The thesis will be written up over 42 months and include defined stages for completion with milestones every 6 months, including the writing and presentation of seminar/conference papers, as well as at least three journal papers to outline (a) the project concept, (b) the methodology, and (c) the results.  


  • environmental-management


CASE Partnership confirmed with Siskin Asset Management and R&A 

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