Tidal surge will help scientists studying Holkham salt marshes and sand dunes in effort to see if North Sea is becoming more stormy

Prof Mark Bateman studying sand dunes in Holkham Prof Mark Bateman studying sand dunes in Holkham

Saturday, December 7, 2013
10:00 AM

The record-breaking tidal surge that hit the east coast on Thursday night could provide vital evidence for scientists who hope to discover whether the North Sea is becoming more stormy.

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Mark Bateman, of the University of Sheffield, has been studying sand dunes at Holkham, as part of a team including researchers from York and Leeds, hoping to find how frequently major surges have occurred in the past and how serious they were.

He said that taking core samples from salt marshes revealed layers of mud which showed when major incidents have happened in the past, while studying historic erosion of nearby sand dunes showed how high the waves were and the seriousness of the floods.

The scientists use luminance dating, similar to radiocarbon dating, to discover the age of individual grains of sand.

Although the work is ongoing, Prof Bateman said information from the structure of the Holkham sand dunes goes back as far as the 17th century.

He said: “I’m quite keen to get down to Norfolk to see what has happened to the dunes I’m studying. Rather than trying to interrogate data you can see exactly what has happened to the dunes. It strengthens the understanding back in time.”

He said a previous study of the medieval period had been used to suggest climate change may be increasing storms in the North Sea, but it was too early to draw conclusions from his work, but he added that it would provide valuable evidence to help important public debates.

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