Skip navigation
erosion escarpment with Anders Pålsson for scale

Aftermath of Storm Babet shows the cost of short-term research funding

Start reading

Aftermath of Storm Babet shows the cost of short-term research funding

When groundbreaking research projects come to an end when their funding expires, critical research findings are left stranded on the precipice of action.

Karina Barquet / Published on 7 November 2023

The Swedish city of Kristianstad sustained a lot of damage when it was hit by Storm Babet in late October. Most likely, the damage could have been significantly reduced with the help of findings from SEI’s case study in Kristianstad, a part of  RISC-KIT (Resilience-Increasing Strategies for Coasts – toolKIT), which ended in 2017.

But the city missed this opportunity, in part because the RISC-KIT project came to an end without enough funding to take its critical research findings and put them into action. With growing environmental risks, funding must focus more on how results from research can be applied.

Coastal hazards and the RISC-KIT project

In 2007, high waves and water levels on the beaches and dunes at Östra Sand and southern Äspet led to extensive erosion (Stadsbyggnadskontoret and C4 Teknik, 2007). This turning point marked the start of increasing threats from coastal hazards for the city of Kristianstad.

Since then, the severity and intensity of storms and erosion continuously put properties and natural landscapes at risk. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, Kristianstad joined nine other cities participating in the RISC-KIT project (2013-2017), which was financed by the EU’s FP7 framework. The project’s primary goal was to engage stakeholders within the 10 cities to identify high-risk areas and develop feasible, effective and socially accepted solutions. These could be a hybrid of nature-based solutions combined with grey infrastructure and “soft” policy solutions.

Over the course of five years, I and my fellow SEI research colleagues working on the project collaborated closely with the city’s residents, representatives from local government, and environmental organizations. We gathered data, conducted simulations, and devised models to predict the impacts of coastal hazards on the city.

The results of our research were not only comprehensive but also remarkably accurate. When a storm hit the coast in 2016, the models and findings produced by the project were accurate, offering valuable insights on the future threats Kristianstad would likely face.

Erosion in the aftermath of storm babet

Äspet, Åhus and Helge: Äspet is located between the southern part of Åhus and the river mouth of Helge, and has 35 ha of beach, with shallow lagoons and sandbanks off the pine-planted dunes. The area is an important resting place for many bird species and in recent years has become an important site for species’ breeding (Stadsbyggnadskontoret, 2009).

Photo: Anders Pålsson.

The missed opportunity

However, a crucial issue hindered the project’s impact and the researchers’ and city’s ability to act on the findings effectively. Despite accurate predictions and actionable recommendations, the project came to an end in 2017, and with it, the funding dried up. As a result, the city of Kristianstad was left with a treasure trove of research findings but limited resources to act upon them.

Fast forward to last month: Storm Babet struck the coast of southern Sweden with strong winds and high-water levels, causing significant damage to property and natural landscapes. The impacts were severe, with flooding and power cuts, as well as disrupted travel and downed trees (see images).

Looking back, it’s easy to imagine how much could have been prevented had our results turned into actionable solutions. Beach nourishments combined with vegetated sand-dunes could have spared between 7 and 9 metres of eroded beach. Combining this nature-based solution with flood-proof structural measures could have helped reduce vulnerability of beach-front properties. The costs for beach nourishments alone are calculated to surpass SEK 24 million in sand extraction, transport and laying costs over a 10-year period (according to consulting firm SWECO’s research published in 2021).

While the costs from Babet have not yet been calculated, the 800 natural hazards (storms, floods, erosion) that hit Kristianstad between 2015 and 2020 caused over SEK 23 million worth in damages (Svensk Försäkring, 2021). And Babet will not be the last to wreak havoc: the “extraordinary storm” is going to be more common with climate change.

Yet this year, the government cut down the budget for climate adaptation by SEK 50 million, despite calls from Sweden’s expert council for climate adaptation to substantially increase funding (Nationella expertrådet för klimatanpassning 2022, 2023). This is leaving municipalities and regions with a huge responsibility and a great deficit to secure society. Part of this lack of funding will impact the application of useful research results.

Erosion in the aftermath of storm babet

Along the coast, rooted eel-fishing is practiced, visible due to eel-huts, labelled as cultural heritage features, and located closest to the beach shore. Also in this area, there was extensive establishment of holiday homes during the 1960s and 1970s throughout the coast, south of Åhus. Many of these holiday homes gradually became permanent accommodation, which in turn, increased the rate of urban development and decreased some of the protective vegetation along the dunes. Today, both the eel huts and houses are highly exposed to coastal processes of floods, and structural and dune erosion (Stadsbyggnadskontoret and C4 Teknik, 2007).

Photo: Anders Pålsson.

The case for continuity in research funds

The story of Kristianstad serves as a stark reminder that well-documented research, left without the necessary financial support, remains unutilized and unable to fulfil its potential in safeguarding communities and the environment.

The lesson is clear: research does not end when a project’s timeline or funding comes to an end. If we want to protect society, foster innovation, and mitigate the impacts of looming challenges like climate change, there must be commitment to provide ongoing financial support to research projects. We recommend research funders to

  1. support tangible impacts of actionable findings: backing research initiatives such as RISC-KIT (see also HydroHazards and CrisAct) is a means to harness valuable insights with the potential to bring about significant real-world change. By consistently funding these projects, financiers can enable the practical application of solutions that save lives, safeguard assets, and protect our natural environments.
  2. reduce duplication of effort: when research findings are not acted on, the same problems are studied over and over again in different locations, perpetuating a cycle of inefficiency and redundancy. By investing in ongoing research, financiers can ensure that new investigations build on existing knowledge, thus promoting a more efficient allocation of resources.
  3. deliver on research’s promise: applied research is a means to an end, not an end in itself. By sustaining financial support for research initiatives, financiers can uphold the commitment of researchers and fulfil the potential of their work by transforming knowledge into practical action.
  4. strengthen community resilience: continuous funding for research projects in areas such as disaster risk reduction can substantially bolster the resilience of communities. By applying research findings, financiers can actively contribute to empowering communities to proactively address threats rather than merely reacting to crises as they arise.

Research on issues that have applied aspects that impact our daily lives, especially as climate change changes the threats to our societies, must evolve beyond academic publications and move toward a more action-oriented approach. To achieve this, funders play a fundamental role in ensuring that projects do not come to a screeching halt when their timelines end. Instead, they should provide the necessary support for researchers to implement their findings and, in doing so, help build a safer, more sustainable future for all.

The lesson from Kristianstad is a stark reminder of the critical need for continuity in research funding. It’s a lesson we must take to heart in the pursuit of a better, more resilient world.

Facts about Kristianstad

Sweden’s lowest point is just outside the city of Kristianstad at 2.41 metres below sea level (SMHI, 2014). With an area of 1346 square kilometres, Kristianstad is the biggest municipality in Skåne, located at the lower end of the Helge River.

The municipality is a focal point for food and beverage production, with over 1600 such companies and hundreds of other companies providing supporting services. There are also several sites of regional importance, including the harbour area of Åhus, which consists of the port facility and important industries; Ramsar sites with wetland areas of international value and UNESCO-recognized biosphere reserves; and areas important for tourism and recreation, including beaches, eel fishing, and holiday homes, some of which are now permanent residences.

SEI author

Karina Barquet
Karina Barquet

Team Leader: Water, Coasts and Ocean; Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Design and development by Soapbox.