Shore Erosion of the North Norfolk Cliffs
November 05, 2003
The soft-rock coastal cliffs near the village of Happisburgh (North Norfolk, UK) are suffering from wave-induced erosion at erratic rates: at times large areas have disappeared overnight, and at others the cliff has remained virtually the same for some years. Villagers in Happisburgh gathered near the cliff-top to spell out a human SOS (behind the row of houses), as a plea to their national government to stop the village from crumbling away.
The North Norfolk cliffs are basically comprised of a contorted mix of silts, sands, clays and gravels that were deposited during the glacial and interglacial phases of the last 2 million years. The cliffs provide little resistance to the aggressive action of North Sea waves, which erode the base of the cliffs. In addition, when the cliff material has a high water content it becomes unstable and, together with wave action, this results in slips & slides of large amounts of material along the coastline, leading to a general retreat of the cliff line.
At least one quarter of the European Union's coast is currently eroding despite the development of a wide range of measures to protect shorelines from eroding and flooding. The prospect of further sea level rise due to climate change and the heritage of mismanagement in the past - such as inappropriate infrastructure - imply that coastal erosion will be a growing concern in the future.