Articles | Volume 8, issue 1
14 Jun 2016
 | 14 Jun 2016

Coastline evolution of Portuguese low-lying sandy coast in the last 50 years: an integrated approach

Cristina Ponte Lira, Ana Nobre Silva, Rui Taborda, and Cesar Freire de Andrade

Abstract. Regional/national-scale information on coastline rates of change and trends is extremely valuable, but these studies are scarce. A widely accepted standardized methodology for analysing long-term coastline change has been difficult to achieve, but it is essential to conduct an integrated and holistic approach to coastline evolution and hence support coastal management actions. Additionally, databases providing knowledge on coastline evolution are of key importance to support both coastal management experts and users.

The main objective of this work is to present the first systematic, national-scale and consistent long-term coastline evolution data of Portuguese mainland low-lying sandy coasts.

The methodology used quantifies coastline evolution using a unique and robust coastline indicator (the foredune toe), which is independent of short-term changes.

The dataset presented comprises (1) two polyline sets, mapping the 1958 and 2010 sandy beach–dune system coastline, both optimized for working at 1 : 50 000 scale or smaller; (2) one polyline set representing long-term change rates between 1958 and 2010, each estimated at 250 m; and (3) a table with minimum, maximum and mean of evolution rates for sandy beach–dune system coastline. All science data produced here are openly accessible at and can be used in other studies.

Results show beach erosion as the dominant trend, with a mean change rate of −0.24 ± 0.01 m year−1 for all mainland Portuguese beach–dune systems. Although erosion is dominant, this evolution is variable in signal and magnitude in different coastal sediment cells and also within each cell. The most relevant beach erosion issues were found in the coastal stretches of Espinho–Torreira and Costa Nova–Praia de Mira, Cova da Gala–Leirosa, and Cova do Vapor–Costa da Caparica. The coastal segments Minho River–Nazaré and Costa da Caparica adjacent to the coast exhibit a history of major human interventions interfering with the coastal system, many of which originated and maintained a sediment deficit. In contrast, the coastal segments Troia–Sines and Sines–Cape S. Vicente have experienced less intervention and show stable or moderate accretion behaviour.

Short summary
Beach erosion is one of the leading problems that coastal regions face worldwide, and coastline evolution studies show how much it affects the coastal system. Usually these studies are site-specific and lack an integrated approach to either a large spatial domain or quantification using a single measurement. The first global Portuguese study on the subject is presented using an integrated approach. Results show erosion as dominant trend (−0.24 m year−1), but it is highly variable in space.