The coast is characterized, almost universally, by the fact it is an intensively utilised area, that it harbours unique ecosystems, and that it serves as a human habitat. Thus, questions of culture, economics, conflict and ecosystems also arise in discussing the coasts. Coasts are disposal sites of terrestrial material flows, areas in danger from invasive species, regions of important economic activities (shipping, fishing, offshore resources, tourism) and junctions of international exchange. Disasters affect the coasts more severely (tsunamis, storm floods). The coast is then to be approached as an interdisciplinary scientific subject, a subject in which society possesses a wide and diverse interest.
Coastal research requires versatile areas of expertise that take into consideration geophysical, ecological and human-geographical dimensions. The latter not only encompasses the coastal population’s history, culture and spectrum of values, but also the necessity for technological and organizational management. Coastal engineering is therefore an integral component of coastal research. A reduction in favour of the oceanographic dimensions is associated with the loss of social relevance and academic appeal.
The Institute of Coastal Research at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht adheres to this general principle – one division within the institute is dedicated to process research (submesoscale eddies) and the question of timely management (COSYNA) while another division deals with perspectives of long-term geophysical change (especially climate change); a third division concentrates on material flows, depositions and the condition of the sea floor in proximity to the coasts. In addition, the Northern German Coastal and Climate Office as well as the Baltic Earth office serve as contact points for the public and for relevant research communities. One sub-division is concerned with the socio-economic dynamics and anthropogenic utilisation of the coast. In addition, a very active presence in the media and in an advisory capacity also help with addressing issues of coastal protection.