As an island surrounded by the sea, Ireland has to be concerned about the effects of coastal erosion.  More than 50% of the Irish population lives within 15km of the coastline but most of these people are concentrated in a few large urban centres.  Large stretches of the 7,000km coastline have low-density populations.  This means that concerns about coastal erosion and rising sea levels are highlighted in some areas but not as prominent in others.  About 30% of coastal lowlands could be lost if there was an increase of 1m in the sea level.  Interest and awareness of the coastal environment has been limited because the coast has remained under populated and economically under developed over the centuries.  Most discussions about the sea was in relation to the fishing industry and leisure activities such as going on holiday to the seaside.  In recent years and global warming and rising sea-levels got more attention in the media, there has been a greater focus on coastal vulnerability throughout Ireland especially the influences of people on the coast.

As Ireland predominantly has a cliff-type coastline and a relatively low percentage of the land is very low, the island has a lower risk than many other countries.  Nonetheless, we need to be concerned about our ability to deal with the rise of sea-levels from further climate warming.  Irelands position on the boundary of the Atlantic ocean and continental Europe is particularly affected by storms which are getting stronger and more frequent.  There is a need, therefore, to raise the awareness that climate warming and its effects are real and to develop more local, national and international debate about what can and should be done. 

When one looks at a map of Ireland, you will notice that much of the highland and mountainous areas lie mainly near coastal regions with the highest mountains on the most exposed western side of the island.  The mountainous areas around the island act like a saucer shape with low elevation and poorly drained land at the centre. 

Ireland is fortunate to have a variety of topological features along the coastline such as cliffs, beaches, sand dunes and salt marshes, mudflats and other wetlands. The stability of sea-levels has been important in the development of these biogeophysical systems.  Average sea levels for Ireland are rising 1mm per year, although there are significant regional variations. Until relatively recently, there were no apparent effects of climate warming on sea-levels and coastal changes. Storms surges, waves, tides, currents, and river discharges affecting the different coastal environments vary significantly in scale around Ireland. Tidal patterns, such as Spring tidal range from 2m to more than 4m. This varied tidal background is further influenced in height by major storm activity. Coasts, particularly those of western Ireland, are exposed to the full effects of eastwards-moving cyclones and swell wave energy from the North Atlantic.   Geographical studies on the impact of weather show the importance of wave and storm energy on coastal erosion. Consequently, the predicted changes in North Atlantic weather as part of climate warming are likely to cause Ireland’s coastal areas to be among the first in Europe to affected by rising sea levels. 

Wave heights and energy around Ireland reach maximum values along western coasts, with significant deep-water wave height variations of 15–2m. These values reduce eastwards into the Irish Sea region. Although coasts here are also impacted by storms, they receive only about 20% of the wave energy levels occurring on open Atlantic coasts.

By Cormac, Adam, Eamonn, Conor, Cillian, Zack, Evan, Simon and Jake