East Yorkshire coastal erosion

migration chart

Page created by Brian Williams in February 2015.
Last change November 2018.

This page follows on from a description of the sediment segmentation model.

The period covered by the migration chart is twenty seasons, autumn and spring, beginning September 2008, the start of beach contour data, to May 2018. Nominally, the ten years represented are 2008 to 2017.

Data for autumn 2016 are absent as a result of adverse weather preventing a physical survey from being conducted. Measurements taken in spring 2017 were for a full year. In the chart the results are split 2:1 over two seasons.

All beach level contour and cliff loss data are supplied by East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

chart layout
Vertically, the chart represents the East Yorkshire coastline from the south of the Bridington frontage. In the interests of simplicity and space, the characteristic long ‘S’ outline is made schematically straight.

Numbers at the edges of the chart are those of monitoring profiles which, apart from two exceptions noted on the chart, intersect the coastline at intervals of 500 metres. Locations are listed at data summary, coordinates.

The chart is compiled from right to left, to mimic east to west, the general direction of cliff recession. Each season, autumn or spring, is served by a column.

cliff loss
At the left of a column for any one season, erosion in terms of land lost at the cliff top is displayed as a red box opposite the appropriate profile number. Width of the box indicates relative severity of the erosion. Actual values are available from spreadsheet or pdf.

Across the bottom of the chart is an activity index – the higher the number the greater the total cliff loss for the season.

Profiles 8 to 18
To the right of the column, a strip in gold-yellow depicts sections of full upper beach as surveyed at the profile location. A continuous length of colour signifies ample evidence of a full upper beach. Less well defined situations are given broken sequences.

Profiles 19 to 123
Strips in columns are run together in order to present an idea of the distribution of full upper beach deposits over seasons.

In the context of the migration chart, a full upper beach is regarded as lying within a contour minimum of +2.5 metres OD, extending for a few metres from the base of the cliff.

Sharing the same alignment as gold-yellow strips are strips in silver-grey. These show where the upper beach is low against the base of the cliff, contours having a maximum of +1.5 metres OD.

Sediment segments or bodies are identified by numbered spines that cross the chart at angles. Positions and slants of spines are determined by calculation.

A segment is represented on the chart by a full upper beach (gold-yellow), usually a salient. As the segment pulls across the beach, the depleted area (in many cases emphasised in silver-grey) between it and the cliff may include an ord. Average lengths of segments can be gauged by distances between spines.

Also shown in the chart are sediment zones, used for research purposes. The zones relate to potential variations in behaviour and characteristics as segments travel along the coast.


According to the sediment segmentation model, beach sediment starts a journey from within Bridlington Bay, advancing south along the Holderness coast to the Spurn peninsula, at the mouth of the Humber. Movement, driven by longshore drift, takes place in the form of a succession of segments.

In the chart, the process becomes apparent below Barmston. Bodies of sediment (in gold-yellow) are seen to work down the chart. Although configurations are subject to change, a certain ‘life course’ to sediment movement can be discerned.

Where major defence structures interrupt movement, sediment tends to accumulate on the updrift side and is depleted on the downdrift side. For more information, see the terminal groyne effect page.

Cliff loss (red boxes) migrates at a similar pace to the beach. Over the ten year period of the chart, an estimated 69% of instances of cliff loss are found opposite stretches lacking a full beach.

Some cliff loss, however, is seen in the chart to occur within the leading edge of a sediment mass. Much of this may be due to delayed erosion, as follows.

direct and delayed erosion
During an erosion event, a depletion of beach sediment may bring about an entire collapse of the cliff, with loss of land at the cliff top which is captured in the erosion data for the same season. This could be considered direct erosion.

Alternatively, instead of full vertical failure, the cliff might be undercut or the base otherwise weakened. At the cliff top, there is no indication of removal of material below, and no retreat is recorded for that season.

After a while, acted on perhaps by a variety of processes (see cliffs), the degraded lower cliff is no longer able to support the weight above. Failure ensues, usually in the form of a slump or rotational slide. The resultant loss at the cliff top appears in data for a season later than that of the initial weakening, and therefore lags behind a beach situation that has moved on. This could be considered delayed erosion.

The two types are by no means mutually exclusive. A cliff possibly undergoes partial failure at the time of maximum wave exposure to become once more unstable as loosened material is removed, leading to a subsequent slump or slide. In such a case, cliff top recession at a particular location will appear in the data over two or more seasons.

Reference to the chart suggests that direct and delayed erosion are very close to two-thirds and one-third of total cliff loss respectively.

cycles of cliff loss
A straight path projected horizontally across the migration chart especially within the area from Mappleton to Withernsea, where segments are well defined, will meet with two separate spreads of gold-yellow. This is equivalent to someone at a single location perceiving that, over time, beach conditions and therefore incidences of erosion are repeated.

Cyclicity in cliff recession along the East Yorkshire coast is well noted. One long-held view is that material from a major event protects the cliff base for a time. The sea eventually removes the material, when the cliff is once more exposed to wave action.

Certainly the mechechanism is to be seen, though on its own it does not account for an overall pattern to lateral movement of erosion. Also, cliff fall can be removed in a relatively short time, sometimes a matter of a few tides, rather than to the scale of years that separate cycles.

In a variation of the previous view, clay is washed away relatively quickly, but sandy material and boulders from the cliff remain on the beach for longer. Sand constitutes about a third of the coast’s glacial deposits, while stony content is abundant (the tills were once known as boulder clay). All are added to the local sediment budget to produce a rise in beach level. A higher beach absorbs some wave energy thereby decreasing the potential for cliff erosion.

Less cliff loss means a smaller contribution to the sediment budget. Beach level drops, allowing more wave contact with the cliff base. And so another cycle begins.

Again, the process does not explain patterns in migration. The stated source of sediment is important, but it is not the only one, and is arguably insuffient to influence changes in erosion activity to the extent observed.

forecasting erosion

chart as above (jpg) (png) (pdf)
chart without fill (jpg) (png) (pdf)
chart showing low beach and cliff loss only (png)

sediment segmentation
more on East Yorkshire coastal erosion