“I studied the beach I had been visiting since I was a child, but I’d never viewed it from a geographical point of view before,” says dissertation prize winner

Rebecca Thrower, who has just graduated in Physical Geography from Lancaster Environment Centre, had a strong interest in coastal systems after growing up near the sea in Truro, Cornwall.

“I wanted to do a dissertation on some aspect of the coast,” says Rebecca. “I chose a beach I have known all my life because I’d seen changes in the sand dunes and wanted to explore why they are happening”.

“I realised that the movement of sediment around a beach can cause problems and can even effect tourism. Last September there were very strong winds and tides. This combination of extreme natural processes carved out a wall of sediment about a metre and a half high, restricting access of the dunes.”

So Rebecca decided to investigate whether different wind speeds, and changing moisture content in the sand, had an impact on the movement of sediment.

Measuring the dunes

She planned to measure the slope of the dunes with a geodolite, and from these create a profile of the slope over time and compare it to changes in the wind and moisture content. She would also look at secondary date from the Channel Coastal Observatory in Plymouth looking at changes to the dunes over five years.

“Initially I was meant to measure the slope at the very start of the holiday and at the end so there would be a three month gap but I had a problem with the equipment and ended up with just a two week gap so had to make more use of secondary data than I had intended.” 

“I learnt a useful lesson that when things go wrong there is always a way around it, and you don’t have to stick to your original plan,” Rebecca explains. “Dr Suzy Ilic, my supervisor, was brilliant and gave me lots of advice.”

Rebecca’s dissertation concluded that both wind and moisture content effected how the dunes moved, but that wind was the dominant force. Her research shared top prize for the best BSc dissertation in her year.  She is now staying on at Lancaster to do a Masters in Resource  and Environmental Management.

An outdoors career 

“I am hoping it is going to get me into environmental consultancy, something that involves the environmental management of coastal systems or river flooding. I would like a career that involves working outdoors and field work. You learn so much when you are walking around a beach.”

For the moment, Rebecca is doing an internship, organised by Lancaster’s Science and Technology Internship Programme, working with recycling company New Reach Limited.

“I’m doing market research about a product to see if it can be used in flood or coastal defences. I can even do it working from home in Cornwall.”