Land-ocean interaction in the coastal zone

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Land-ocean interaction in the coastal zone (LOICZ) is a scientific core project of the International Geosphere and Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP)

What is LOICZ?

LOICZ is an international research project involving scientists from across the globe who have been investigating changes in chemistry and physics, and in the biology, of the coastal zone since 1993. Beginning in 2003, LOICZ has expanded its areas of research to include social, political and economic sciences so that its current and future research incorporates the human dimensions of the coastal zone. The results from the research are used to explore the forcing and effects of global change on coastal systems and the central role humans play as active agents of change and in response to change. This includes vulnerability and adaptation of the socio-ecological coastal zone systems in light of changing environments and degrading or growing options for land and sea use. The central paradigm is to provide the scientific underpinning for better informed decision making or, in other words, to protect coasts and coastal goods and services for future generations. The goal of LOICZ is:

"to provide the knowledge, understanding and prediction needed to allow coastal communities to assess, anticipate and respond to the interaction of global change and local pressures which determine coastal change".

LOICZ is engaging in new research to inform the scientific community, policymakers, managers and stakeholders on the relevance of global environmental change in the coastal zone.

What is the coastal zone?

The coastal zone represents the interface between the land, sea and atmosphere. Almost half the world's population lives within this zone including many of the world's poor and including 70% of the world’s mega cities. Coastal zones have been and remain to be “society’s edge” – an area where social and cultural as well as economic development is concentrating. The coastal zone has the following characteristics:

  • It contains natural systems (such as estuaries, coral reefs, sea grass beds) that provide more than half of the goods (e.g., fish, oil, gas, minerals) and services (e.g., natural protection from storms and tidal waves, space for recreation).
  • Various user groups compete for land and sea resources. This often results in conflict eventually causing deterioration of the coastal zone. In same cases (e.g. island states) the coastal zone serves as the only pillar of the national economy.
  • It is a preferred site for urbanization.

Why is the coastal zone important?

A large proportion of the World’s population lives at or near the coast and relies on the health and maintenance of coastal environments. The coastal zone is diverse with productive habitats important for human welfare and ecosystem functioning. The demands placed on the coastal environment for space to live and natural resources to exploit is increasing as populations grow: Protecting coastal zones for all their natural, economic, social and aesthetic values becomes even more important as these demands generate increasingly unsustainable resource use in the future. The coastal Zone is one of the priority areas where society urgently needs advanced governance systems to set the stage for sustainable decision making in response to the accelerating demands and the challenges of climate change. The scale of the coastal zone in the LOICZ science includes river-catchments and continental shelves where these geographical extensions are meaningful for coastal processes and development scenarios.

LOICZ research

LOICZ in its second decade has developed a Science Plan and Implementation Strategy around 5 themes in order to better understand:

  1. Coastal Vulnerability: Why coasts are sensitive to natural and man-made changes and how the changes bring risk to environmental health and human welfare.
  2. How natural and man-made changes affect the surroundings and “ingredients” available at the coast for societies to use (Ecosystem effects, incl. goods and services).
  3. How human activity in contributing river-catchments can change and influence the coast.
  4. The transport and changes in, sediments and nutrient cycles in coastal and shelf waters and at the sea bottom – water interface.
  5. How managing activities and underlying governance systems can support future generations in the coastal zone.

LOICZ research is being carried out by a global network of scientists whose contributions in form of affiliated projects, individual publications and/or workshop participation all build the LOICZ excellence base. Projects contribute scientific information on a variety of spatial scales from local via regional to the full global scale. Modelling on various levels of complexity and methods for up scaling and comparative integrated analysis and assessment are supporting cross cutting activities. A key activity focuses on capacity building and training in summer schools, master courses and visiting scientist arrangements. LOICZ builds and maintains a global network of collaborating institutions for this purpose.

The mid-term perspective

Subsequent to the publishing of the Science Plan which sketches the broad scientific frame, LOICZ identified three Priority Topics to focus on in the mid-term future in all of which the themes outlined above are pertinent and represent a continuum of science research. In order to keep LOICZ responsive and flexible these Priority Topics are “living” science directions subject to continued review. In the following they are summarized:

Priority Topic 1: Linking social and ecological systems in the Coastal Zone

The objective of the topic is to gain insights on the likely future state of the marine environment in various economic and social scenarios. The ecosystem approach (underlying "ecosystem based management") regards humans to be an integral part of current natural systems. There are large numbers of deterministic and stochastic models that examine various facets of the natural environment, and similarly large numbers of models dealing with human social systems. However, there have been very few attempts to couple them together into a single socio-ecological system that consider the system to consist of an assemblage of interdependent life forms - including humans - and their non-living habitats and resource base, the integrity of which is highly dependent upon human decisions. Work within this topic aims to focus on:

  1. Conceptual modelling: LOICZ will explore how models can incorporate dynamic interpretations of data and source empirical data to populate models.
  2. Quantitative models: Mechanistic or stochastic models operate at various different scales and levels of complexity and this topic will explore how scale affects system properties requirements for data as well as mixed methodology approaches to accommodate the entire scale of systems.
  3. Scenario-building and decision support models: One of the most exciting challenges for system models is to gain insights on the likely future state of the marine environment through their application in various economic and social scenarios.

Priority Topic 2: Assessing and predicting impact of environmental change on coastal ecosystems

This topic encapsulates a) examining the changes in loads associated with human activities in coastal watersheds as well as other human-induced effects, and b) examining the response of coastal and shelf ecosystems to these changes. To the extent that we can extend or develop LOICZ approaches to apply to coastal governance, activities under this topic will also address issues of and “coastal and probably river-basin management”. Runoff, groundwater flows, nutrient and sediment loads are all affected by human activity and especially human-induced changes in climate and land use. These may be addressed using a variety of relatively simple analytical tools, including nutrient accounting approaches and large-scale hydrologically based models. The goal is to extend existing approaches either geographically or methodologically, and to permit estimation of nutrient loads, their uncertainty and variation. The coastal and shelf systems response has been addressed earlier in LOICZ by estimating the metabolism of coastal and shelf ecosystems using the LOICZ budget methodology. This methodology will be refined and extended, specifically in an attempt to also address issues of coastal sustainability and governance. The use of additional modelling approaches will be evaluated to determine whether such approaches are more appropriate to address particular coastal management questions.

Priority Topic 3: Linking governance and science in coastal regions

Addressing the LOICZ primary goal mentioned above this Topic integrates across the five themes of LOICZ. Its focus is on “coastal communities” defined to include policy makers, managers and stakeholders and “coastal ecosystems” embracing Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs), coasts and their associated watersheds. The approach will be to select sites for an analysis of success factors in bridging between ecosystem science and governance. The analysis will focus upon successes and failures in instigating the changes in human behaviour (institutions, markets and civil society) that mark the implementation of a coastal ecosystem management initiative. In general the analysis will examine coastal governance within the context of the next larger system, a watershed, a Large Marine Ecosystem or geographic region. The analysis will address three central questions:

  1. How are overviews of ecosystem condition being developed and trends being communicated?
  2. How can coastal ecosystem governance initiatives affect the behaviour of societies more effectively?
  3. What are the resulting outcomes and how can we improve upon them?

LOICZ outputs & dissemination

LOICZ research is being communicated and taught through workshops which result in the publication of the Reports and Studies Series. Developments within LOICZ are published in a Newsletter and regular (multi annual) reports for general reference to activities, accomplishments and progress. Scientists involved in LOICZ also publish their results in a wide range of scientific journals, conference proceedings and manuals. The LOICZ IPO provides and maintains an interactive database and search engine for affiliated projects which enables world wide exposure and promotion of individual projects and scientific activities.

Modelling & typology

Modelling is an important activity that illustrates the results of LOICZ research and identifies the research needs of the future. Natural systems such as ecosystems are usually very complex, and models are tools that help conceptualize, integrate, and generalize knowledge. LOICZ works to produce models that explain and forecast how factors, such as water, salt, sediment, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, affect the coastal zone and is working to develop scenarios that investigate the implications of these changes on society.

The variety of physical, biological, chemical, social, political and economic factors that influence the coastal zone, and the length of the globe’s coastline, does not allow measurement of all of them and at every possible location. LOICZ therefore develops typology approaches (“typology” literally means the study of types where things are classified and made comparable according to their characteristics) of the world’s coasts based upon available scientific information and data. One purpose of this is to look at multiple, sometimes complex datasets and to find a way to cluster the various parameters included in order to arrive at meaningful and comparable coastal classes. The next step is to visualise those and synthesise a picture of current and future coastal functioning, interaction of society and climate and to predict future scenarios. The typology relies on a growing coastal database which in the future will build in a variety of land-based and human dimensions variables. Multi-user interfaces are under development. The typology also helps to identify gaps in our scientific knowledge and geographic areas that require more investigation.

LOICZ management and governance

The LOICZ project is managed by an International Project Office (IPO) that is responsible for the administration of the project on a day-to-day basis. Scientific guidance is provided by an international Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) that oversees the development, planning and implementation of the LOICZ activities. Regional Nodes (until early 2007 in Singapore, Colombo, Accra*, and foreseen in Yantai and Athens) facilitate the engagement by scientists, managers and decision makers at a regional level with LOICZ research and to ensure that the research carried out by LOICZ is relevant to regional needs.


*associated START/PACOM coastal research Node


External links

LOICZ Science Plan and Implementation Strategy (pdf)
The main author of this article is Kremer Hartwig
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.


The main author of this article is Hester Whyte
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.


Authors Hartwig Kremer and Hester Whyte from LOICZ IPO; GKSS Research Centre, Geesthacht Germany; Feb 2007