GEOS3731 – Coastal Processes and Hazards

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Please be aware that the name of this course has recently changed from ‘Coastal Geomorphology’ to ‘Coastal Processes and Hazards’. This is to reflect the changing content of the course over the years by adding a greater emphasis on coastal hazards. These changes have recently been approved (September 2018) by the University, but may not officially appear in the UNSW Course Handbook and other online references to the Course for some time. The core elements of the old version of the course, specifically coastal geomorphological processes in relation to beaches, remain the same and overall the change to course content is relatively minor. However, students should be aware that there is an increase in content related to coastal hazards and applied aspects of coastal hazard management involving both physical and social science approaches.

Life’s a beach right? Well, it is in Australia which has arguably the best beaches in the world. Not only are they prime destinations for tourists, but with over 80% of Australians living along the coast, they are fundamental to our lifestyle and economy. However, coasts are not just about beaches and the world’s coastlines are prone to several types of natural hazards, which can cause loss of human life and significant damage to coastal infrastructure. This course is about those beaches and hazards…and more!

GEOS3731 Coastal Processes and Hazards provides an understanding of the physical processes, such as waves, currents and tides, which operate along our coastline and how they change over time and shape our beaches. Knowledge of coastal processes over different spatial and temporal scales provides a foundation for understanding the magnitude and frequency of different types of coastal hazards and how we interact with, and manage, them. The latter involves a ‘social geomorphological’ approach to tackling real-world problems. Given the rapid growth in coastal related management, consulting, and engineering fields, it is also important to understand how to measure and monitor coastal environments and hazards. This course provides a solid background of both basic and applied science skills that will help prepare you for careers in coastal science.

This course will be of interest to any upper level student interested in coastal processes, beaches and hazards, and while it is primarily a science-based course, there are elements of social science that may appeal to non-science students.  The content and skills gained in the course are relevant to the broad fields of Coastal Science, Geomorphology, Coastal Hazards, Coastal Management and Engineering.


GEOS 3731 is offered in Term 1

The course is worth 6 units of credit. For more information, check out the links below:

Current handbook entry Current timetable Course outline

 Who should I contact?

The Course Convener for GEOS3731 is Professor Rob Brander ( He runs the majority of lectures and labs as well as the field trip. There are several guest lectures during the course.

Rob Brander is an internationally recognised coastal scientist with a research focus on rip currents and beach safety. His high media profile and efforts at science communication has resulted in the nickname ‘Dr Rip’ and an Australian Eureka Science Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science. To find out a little bit more about what he does, follow his Facebook Page ‘Dr Rip’s Science of the Surf’, or watch the following YouTube videos:

‘How to Survive Beach Rip Currents’


‘How do waves break’

 A/Prof Brander is trained in physical geography and coastal geomorphology and is passionate about teaching. He draws upon his extensive research experience around the world to introduce students to coastal processes and hazards.

What does this course cover?

GEOS3731 examines the key coastal geomorphological processes of waves, currents and sediment transport in the context of morphodynamic shoreline and beach response over a range of spatial and temporal scales. Key coastal hazard and management issues are examined using both physical and social science approaches. Hazards covered include tsunami, coastal erosion and inundation, and beach safety. A key theme of the course involves an introduction to how we monitor beaches and surf zones, both remotely and through direct field measurements. Although the course is global in relevance, the focus will be on Australian beach systems. Students will learn a range of practical skills during practical exercises and the field trip.

The aims of the course are to: i) provide you with an understanding of fundamental coastal morphodynamic principles associated with process-form relationships; ii) relate these principles to applied physical coastal hazard management issues; and iii) introduce you to a range of field monitoring techniques.

Major Topics Covered:

  1. Coastal morphodynamics
  2. Coastal evolution and shoreline change
  3. Beach morphology and types
  4. Coastal dunes and barriers
  5. Surf zone waves and currents
  6. Coastal hazards and management
  7. Coastal field monitoring and measurement

 The following YouTube videos provide a snapshot into some of the content of the course:

‘Rip Current Time lapse’

‘A Year at Bondi Beach’


Winda Woppa spit from 2013 (left) and 2015 (right) Field Trips.


Where does this course fit into my degree?

GEOS3731 is a Stage 3 course and is designed to be accessible to all upper level students. It contributes to the Geography (GEOGG13970) and Marine Science (MSCIM13970) Majors in Science, and the Physical Geography (GEOGT13962) and Marine and Coastal Science (MSCIS13962) Majors in Advanced Science. The course is also highly relevant to Environmental and Coastal Engineers and is popular with Study Abroad and International Exchange students.

Key learning goals and outcomes of the course include:

  • Fundamental knowledge of nearshore coastal processes and their relevance to contemporary coastal hazard management issues;
  • Critical thinking and problem solving skills using real data;
  • Written and oral communication;
  • Team/group work and dynamics;
  • An appreciation of a variety of coastal monitoring techniques;
  • Practical skills involving data analysis and fieldwork; and
  • Ability to evaluate the role of human interactions in the management of coastal hazards.

Is there assumed prior knowledge or a co-requisite?

Although this is a Stage 3 course, there are no pre-requisites although the following courses at UNSW provide good preparation for the content and skills in this course:

In particular this course aligns well with GEOS3921 - Coastal Resource Management  (which runs in T3) and the combination of both courses will provide a solid training for future careers in coastal management related fields.

If you are from another university, any physical geography, geosciences, earth sciences or geomorphology course will provide excellent preparation.

Are there mandatory activities for this course?

All students are expected to attend the 3 day field trip to the mid-north coast region of NSW (staying at the UNSW Smiths Lake Field Station) There is a cost of approximately $200-$250, which covers transport, accommodation and food.

Lectures are not mandatory, but if you miss them, you are really missing out on your student university experience!

Is there anything else I should know?

There is a final exam for the course that will be scheduled during the exam period.

GEOS 3731 has always been a very popular course with students, and has rated highly in all official course student course evaluations. You are welcome to view previous evaluations:

Course Evaluations  Student Comments

The word cloud below is generated from student comments from the course evaluation about what they liked about the course.

NB: All information provided on this page is superseded by information provided by the course coordinator or lecturer(s).