Journal of Coastal Conservation

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 113–124 | Cite as

Beach topography mapping—a comparsion of techniques

  • Mason D. C. 
  • Gurney C. 
  • Kennett M. 


A comparison of current techniques for measuring elevations in the beach and near-shore zones is presented. Techniques considered include traditional methods such as ground survey along transects and airborne stereophotogrammetry, and also newer methods based on remote sensing such as airborne scanning laser altimetry (LiDAR). The approach taken was to identify a representative group of users of beach elevation data, elicit their requirements regarding these data, then assess how well the different methods met these requirements on both technical and financial grounds.

Potential users of beach height measurements include those concerned with coastal defence, coastal environmental management economic exploitation of the intertidal zone, and coastal flood forecasting. Three test areas in the UK were identified covering a range of such users and also different beach types. A total of 17 basic user requirements were elicited. For each requirement each method was scored according to the degree to which it could meet the requirement. Total scores were calculated and each method ranked. This was undertaken for all the requirements together, for a subset relating to survey of narrow beaches, and for a subset relating to survey of wide beaches. Approximate costs were also established for the top six methods.

Airborne stereophotogrammetry proved to be the best method technically, but was also the most expensive. Ground survey provides very good technical performance on narrower beaches at moderate cost. Airborne LiDAR can achieve good technical performance on both narrow and wide beaches at lower cost than ground survey. The satellite-based waterline method was also inexpensive and gave good results on wide beaches. An overall conclusion is that, while the traditional methods of ground survey and airborne stereophotogrammetry remain the best for engineering-related surveys requiring high levels of accuracy, airborne LiDAR in particular looks set to have a significant impact on beach survey for applications for which a vertical accuracy of 20 cm is acceptable, provided that its technology evolves satisfactorily.


Digital Elevation Model Geomorphology Interferometry LiDAR Profiling Remote sensing Stereophotogrammetry Waterline 



City Council


Digital Elevation Model


Environment Agency


English Nature


Arborne scanning laser altimetry


Synthetic Aperture Radar


Special Protection Area


Site of Special Scientific Interest


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Copyright information

© EUCC 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Natural Environment Research Council Environmental Systems Science Centre (ESSC)University of ReadingReadingUK
  2. 2.National Remote Sensing Centre Ltd (NRSC)FarnboroughUK

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