Field: Coastal defence, Flood preventing
Global Technical function: Managing
Technical Function Unit: Draining, Natural storing, Protecting, Software tool, Strategic planning, Structural storing
Geographic Area: Italy


The “Innovative coastal technologies for safer European coasts in a changing climate” (THESEUS) is a large-scale project that aims to deliver both coastal defence methodologies and technologies for protecting human activities on shores as well as for establishing healthy habitats.

Coastal areas are vital economic hubs. The population living within European coastal cities has doubled over the past 50 years. In Europe, the total value of assets located within 500 meters of the coastline is estimated between € 500 and 1000 billion (in 2000). Nonetheless, Europe’s coasts are vulnerable to sea-level rise and climate changes. These threats, combined with non-climate stressors such as overpopulation, over-fishing, pollution and invasion of alien species (see DAISIE), weaken coastal ecosystems.

To tackle this double-issue, a systemic approach is required for managing an efficient response in the short, medium and long term. That is why the present project does not develop technical solutions exclusively but rather includes them into strategic planning tools that take sustainable development into account (i.e. by bringing together economic, social and environmental aspects).

The approach includes coastal risk assessment, development of innovative climate proof mitigation measures and decision support for selecting the sustainable response strategies. 

To test this approach, several zones among European large urban and industrial estuaries and deltas are selected according to their specific erosion and flood risk management challenges. These are: Santander spit (Spain), Gironde estuary (France), Plymouth sound (United Kingdom), Scheldt estuary (The Netherlands and Belgium), Elbe estuary (Germany), Po delta plain (Italy), Vistula delta plain (Poland) and Varna spit (Bulgaria).

In a first step, the Source-Pathway-Receptor-Consequence (SPRC)  method is used for a better understanding of the coastal system : the SPRC evaluates how the Sources (e.g. waves, tides, river discharges) through the Pathways (i.e. coastal structures, sea banks, drainage channels, salt-marshes, etc.) affect the Receptors (i.e. inland systems: population, salt-marshes, houses, industries, etc.), generating economic, social and environmental Consequences.  Consequences can be synthesised based on economic, social and environmental indicators that are finally integrated through a Multi Criteria Approach (MCA) to provide a holistic risk assessment. The information is gathered in maps based on Global Information System (GIS).

In a second step, relevant mitigation measures are analysed. These measures include engineering technologies, ecologically based solutions, social and economic measures. With regard to coastal engineering, overtopping resistant dikes (i.e. structural storing devices where water that is washed over the top can be stored for further draining), low crested breakwaters (i.e. with a minimal visual impact), multipurpose structures such as artificial reefs, combined plans of dredging and nourishment operations and the innovative challenge of combining wave energy conversion and beach defence purposes are investigated. As far as ecological science is concerned, there are various specific habitats (e.g. salt marshes, dunes and natural reefs) capable of acting as
natural storing devices or barriers for a flood preventing achievement. Their preservation leads to maintain the biological diversity as well as to protect the shoreline in an environmental-friendly manner. Social science and economics will address the challenges of transforming the concept of resilience into a portfolio of tested operational innovative tools such as spatial planning, insurance programs, siting, designing and managing business operations. 

In a third step, outstanding scientific results will be synthesised into project guidelines and technical outcomes will be integrated into a GIS based software tool.  This innovative decision support system tool should assist coastal managers and policy makers to identify risk level in the coastal area and scope the best combination of mitigation measures.

The project is the largest action within coastal risk assessment and mitigation. It is financed by the European Commission under the seventh framework program (FP7), a grant funding programme. It is currently running so that several outputs are still under development. Therefore, the related Technology Readiness Level is estimated to 6 on the TRL scale, according to the scope of the seventh framework programme, which provides public grant partial funding for R&D.

When achieved in 2013, the so-developed technical and methodological tools will attempt to achieve a safe (or low risk) coast for human use and development as well as healthy habitats as sea levels rise and climate changes.