Press Office

Storm Babet

Durham’s colliery coastline at risk from Storm Babet

Published on: 20 October 2023

Researchers from Newcastle University are braving the elements during Storm Babet to document major changes in Durham’s industrial coastline.

The Met Office has issued Amber and Red severe weather warnings, predicting sustained strong winds and heavy rainfall in the coming days. This storm is also expected to generate large waves along the North Sea coast, which pose a potential risk of erosion, especially on the Durham coastline where fragile and toxic coal waste deposits sit just above the high-water mark.

These deposits are remnants of a bygone era of coal extraction, when at its peak approximately 2.5 million tonnes of waste were deposited on Durham's beaches annually.

Notably, at locations like Blast Beach, near Seaham, which famously featured in the film Alien 3, the coal spoil has eroded significantly since industrial tipping ceased.

Using drones to survey the beaches and map out the changes, the Newcastle University research team is working to measure the changes along the coastline, particularly in response to Storm Babet.

Already the team has measured around one metre of erosion in parts of the coal platform at Blast Beach as a result of the first high tide Thursday morning.

Dr Seb Pitman, Lecturer in Physical Geography, said: “We are approaching a point where the coal waste has almost entirely disappeared, and this could lead to active erosion of the cliffs behind it in the coming decade.”

The erosion to the coal platform at Blast Beach caused by Storm Babet
The coal platform (above) suffered some erosion on Thursday 19 October

Prolonged damage

Storm Babet was likely to be particularly damaging, Dr Pitman said, because of its prolonged duration.

“What’s unusual with this storm is not necessarily how large the waves will be, but for how long,” he said. “We are expecting to see waves in excess of four metres high for around 72 hours. This equates to about six high tides, meaning the storm will have multiple opportunities to remove large parts of the coal platform on the beach.”

Storm Babet is likely to peak overnight on 20 October, but the researchers will continue to monitor the impact of the storm with the aim of better understanding the behaviours of these remarkable beaches.

Newcastle University researchers fly a drone above Blast Beach during Storm Babet to measure the damage caused to the coastline
Researchers use drones to survey the beaches and map out the changes attributed to the storm

Latest News