Southern North Sea storm surge event of 5 December 2013: Water levels, waves and coastal impacts

TitleSouthern North Sea storm surge event of 5 December 2013: Water levels, waves and coastal impacts
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsSpencer, T, Brooks, SM, Evans, BR, Tempest, JA, Möller, I
Pagination120 - 145
Date Published07/2015
ISBN Number0012-8252
KeywordsDigital Shoreline Analysis System, Sea flooding, Sea level rise, Shoreline retreat, Southern North Sea

The storm surge event that affected the coastal margins of the southern North Sea on 5–6 December 2013 produced the highest still water levels on record at several tide gauges on the UK east coast. On east-facing coasts south of the Humber estuary and north-facing Norfolk, water levels were higher than in the twentieth century benchmark surge event of 31 January–1 February 1953. Maximum significant wave heights were highest off the North Norfolk coast (peak Hs=3.8m offshore, 2.9m inshore) and lowest off the Suffolk coast (Hs=1.5–1.8m inshore); comparable offshore wave heights in 1953 were 7–8m and ca. 3m. The lower wave heights, and their short duration, in 2013 explain both localised breaching, overtopping, and back-barrier flooding associated with gravel ridges and relatively low earthen banks as well as the lack of failure in more highly-engineered coastal defences. On barrier coasts and within estuaries, the signal of maximum runup was highly variable, reflecting the modification of the tide–surge–wave signal by inshore bathymetry and the presence of a range of coastal ecosystems. The landscape impacts of the December 2013 surge included the notching of soft rock cliffs and cliffline retreat; erosion of coastal dunes; and the augmentation or re-activation of barrier island washover deposits. Whilst surge event-related cliff retreat on the rapidly eroding cliffs of the Suffolk coast lay within the natural variability in inter-annual rates of retreat, the impact of the surge on upper beach/sand dune margins produced a pulse of shoreline translation landwards equivalent to about 10years of ‘normal’ shoreline retreat. The study of east coast surges over the last 60years, and the identification of significant phases of landscape change — such as periods of rapid soft rock cliff retreat and the formation of new gravel washovers on barrier islands — points to the importance of high water levels being accompanied by high wave activity. Future developments in early warning systems and evacuation planning require information on the variable impacts of such extreme events.

Short TitleEarth-Science Reviews