Restore the coast of Europe with natural and blue carbon solutions

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The Maritime Engineering Laboratory (LIM) of the UPC leads the European project Large Scale RESToration of COASTal Ecosystems through Rivers to Sea Connectivity (REST-COAST) with the aim of restoring the coast and adapting it to the impact of climate change.

REST-COAST proposes reducing coastal risks, improving biodiversity and developing coastal blue carbon to mitigate the effects of climate change. The four-year action plan to restore the coast will be replicable and scalable to any coast on the planet. The scientists will analyse 12 critical points of the European coast that are vulnerable. They include three main pilot projects: in the Ebro Delta, Waddensea in the North Sea, and the Venetian Lagoon in the Adriatic. In addition, a lagoon in the Baltic Sea will be studied and a bay in the Black Sea, the Rhone Delta, Arcachon Bay on the French Atlantic coast, the low coasts of Sicily, and Nahal Dalia on the coast of Israel.

The expected project results will influence advances in the technology, financing and policies of coastal restoration at large scale and will lead to nature-based actions and solutions. Through blocks of natural solutions, connectivity will be increased in the continuum of river-delta-estuary-coast-sea. To achieve this, a coordinated approach will be used for the various pilot studies in Europe. The latest advances in modelling and measures, biodiversity restoration techniques, new means of joint funding, advances in the integration of management, and applicable policies will be implemented. In addition, early warning systems will be developed to improve the sustainability of the coast and foresee the impact of storms, such as those produced by Storm Glòria in 2020. Future storms that could cause a rise in the sea to levels considerably higher than at present.

The project, which began in October and will last four years with funding of 18.4 million euros is part of the Green Deal of the European programme Horizon 2020. It is designed to align decarbonized coastal protection with a contribution to climate mitigation through coastal blue carbon, which is highly efficient if it is compared to other terrestrial ecosystems.

Solutions for the pilot study of the Ebro Delta are based on the connectivity of the river-delta-coast, the durability of the sedimentary resources through diversity and monitoring to support maintenance. Specifically, some of the interventions that are expected are the 'by pass' or 'back pass' of sediments and the attenuation of hydro-morphodynamics to counteract the effects of the rise in sea level. As a result of climate change, the rise in sea level, the action of the waves and other factors such as currents that are generated when waves break make sediment move, the Trabucador sandbar breaks, the beach is left without sand and the bay is gradually closed in the northern half of the delta (El Fangar). Therefore, the scientists are developing measures based on nature that help to reduce these effects.

In addition, early action is expected via a system of warnings when the forecast indicates that there will be extreme storms. The water-sediment-ecosystem interaction will be analysed under the present climate conditions and under artificial climate warming that simulates the conditions of the future climate, to assess how the ecosystem services will evolve. This analysis will be caried out in situ in the Ebro Delta through the installation of a cabin to control environmental parameters, like a temporary climate laboratory.

The project will contribute to giving a sustainable response to the climate crisis and will help to protect ecosystems and coastal biodiversity, which are unique and difficult to restore when they go beyond certain limits of degradation. In Europe, the project will include measures to achieve neutral emissions of pollutants in 2050. RES-COAST brings together 38 partners from 11 countries.

For these highly vulnerable coastal zones, the project will assess how natural solutions reduce the risks of erosion and flooding, and how water quality can be improved in coastal areas to make the coast more resilient to climate factors.