Coastal City Observatory Project

At Newcastle University we have formed a consortium whose vision is to create a Coastal City Observatory. This is kindly supported by the Newcastle University’s Institute for Sustainability.


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                                             What is the potential of a Coastal City Observatory?            


The Coastal City Observatory initiative is wide-ranging; considering the sustainable monitoring, use and impacts of river systems, port and associated activities, coastal waters and onwards to the offshore marine environment.                                        


A possible future of a Coastal City?

Our vision is to create an enduring, multidisciplinary research community strongly linked to a diverse range of relevant stakeholders, capable of informing policy through developing new intelligence and understanding of the impact that coastal cities have on the health of their adjacent environments.

The water continuum can be described as: Rivers-Estuaries-Coast-Sea. An anthropogenic activity continuum exists along a pathway as: Rural-Urban-Port-Ships-Offshore. The Coastal City is at the interface between the water-anthropogenic continua and provides the unique imperative for The Coastal City Observatory.

The key research challenges are derived from the fact that, while approximately 40% of the world’s population live close to the coast, there are huge differences between individual coastal cities; each one being locally unique because of, for example: differing topography, population sizes, industrial activities, pollution from historical sources, local ecology, river catchments and upstream land usage, etc. This leads to the complexity of understanding and modelling coastal cities as systems, coupled with the extensive diversity in the scientific and technical expertise that needs to be brought to bear. Therefore, to allow us to make informed choices on issues of sustainability around coastal cities, there is a compelling need for detailed and coherent research into: Firstly, how to monitor or ‘observe’ coastal cities, including the required data, monitoring technologies and regimes, and; Secondly, how do we use these observations in models to pursue tackling key science questions within the broader question of what is the impact of having an active port and river system in a coastal city on, for example:

  • …the coastal zone?
  • …the health and functioning of eco-systems?
  • …city air quality?
  • …the economy of the city?
  • …societal wellbeing?


Coastal City Observatory Project Coastal City Observatory Project

 Dystopian futures if we do nothing?


The underlying theme of this initiative is:

To create a holistic coastal observatory framework, with extensive stakeholder input, to deliver the ‘Road Map’ for establishing Coastal City Observatories and further expand the wealth of key scientific questions that should be addressed. The longer-term impacts that a Coastal City Observatory would facilitate, through extending the reach of the Urban Observatory and revealing the primary drivers of the river-city-coastal system, include, but are not limited to, addressing key scientific questions, for example:

  • What is the effect of anthropogenic activity in ports and harbours on local air quality (NOx, SOx, PM, etc.)?
  • What key parameters are required to indicate “health” of the eco-system (air and in the water)?
  • How can we develop a unique land-sea air quality model integrating marine and land sources, to understand their interactions and impacts on coastal flora and fauna?
  • How can we develop a [river] catchment-based model for understanding the effects of upstream events on marine eco-systems?

This in turn will, for example, lead to:

  • Measured effect of coastal (and port) shipping activity on coastal air and sea pollution levels.
  • Measured effect of anthropogenic activity carried in the river system affecting coastal pollution levels and subsequent effect on coastal eco-system (e.g. run-off water affected by human activity carried from Urban to Coastal via river systems).
  • Facilitating evidence-informed policy and enforcement across the complex landscape of stakeholders
  • Modelling future coastal cities development scenarios (national & international including developing nations)
  • Influencing a change of working practices towards environmentally conscientious development of coastal cities
  • Provide clear routes to developing impact case studies


                                                       Enabling brighter futures for developing nations?