Coast4D | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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A next-generation citizen science coastal monitoring program

Using citizen science and artificial intelligence we are making precise 3D models of the beach to better understand and plan for erosion and changes to the beach aquatic ecosystem, dune vegetation and turtle nesting.

Questions we seek to answer
  • Does beach width/slope affect turtle nesting  selection/success?
  • Is beach erosion accelerating?
  • What type of dune vegetation better
    mitigates erosion?
Adapting to climate change

Our global climate has already changed. Warming keeps increasing at unprecedented rates. Future projections forecast that ecosystems and societies across Australia will be significantly affected by impacts such as accelerating sea-level rise and extreme storms.

A need to understand coastal processes

Understanding complex coastal processes and interactions between land, sea and human communities is of primary concern. We need to learn more and fill the gaps in our understanding of coastal process in this changing climate context.

Improved data for better outcomes

Our research directly addresses the lack of data and improves coastal monitoring to facilitate coastal adaptation to climate change and build resilience against coastal hazards.

Turtle on a beach
Climate change impacts sea levels, water temperature, storm activity and can increase erosion, impacting a turtle's beach habitat.

Become a citizen scientist

We need volunteers in the local community to help us complete this research. You do not need a science degree or qualification. It's easy, and anyone can join. You'll be asked to do the following.

Four easy steps

1. Collect equipment - book a Smartphone RTK from a community partner and head to a preferred pre-established beach site.

2. Take photos - take overlapping photos of the site. Approximately ten minutes are needed to take up to 200 overlapping photos (one photo every one metre/big step) that will cover an area of around 200 square metres.

3. Upload images - upload the photos you've taken using a computer.

4. Return equipment - return the Smartphone RTK to the community partner.


Research process

4D monitoring

3D surveys of the dunes and beach will be repeatedly undertaken (3D + time = 4D monitoring) using overlapping images taken from smartphones by citizen scientists.

Smartphones (Android only) will be connected to the ‘Smartphone RTK’ system which consists of a special bracket and a survey-grade GPS antenna. This system allows photos to be precisely located, or ‘geotagged’, to within 2cm.


Short reports will be sent to community partners for their distribution as 3D surveys of different beach sites are produced. For example, after storm events or every couple of months. Reports will include images and beach profile changes such as dune crest retreat, beach volume change and vegetation changes.


A public presentation will be organised to showcase the outcomes. Raw data (3D and images) will be available upon request.

Meet the researcher

Dr Javier Leon

Dr Javier Leon is a geographer with interest in geomorphology  with specific focus in the study and management of coastal systems including sandy beaches and coral reefs. He has undertaken multidisciplinary research projects combining field data, geospatial techniques and modelling in study sites across the Great Barrier Reef and Eastern coast of Australia and Pacific Islands including Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. He aims to answer questions related to links between morphology, ecology and management in the current changing climate and sea-level rise context.

Latest news

Coast4D - a next generation citizen science coastal monitoring program
Citizen scientists to create 4D beach database

More than 50 citizen scientists have already shown interest in helping a University of the Sunshine Coast researcher build a database of local beaches in a new project funded by the Queensland Government.

Javier Leon with volunteers for Coast4D project
Citizen scientists help UniSC take beach research into fourth dimension

Volunteers armed with GPS units attached to smartphones will be photographing two Sunshine Coast beaches tomorrow, Wednesday 20 April, as part of innovative USC research into changing coastal conditions.

Javier Leon with volunteers for Coast4D project
Space, satellites and shifting sands - How a UniSC partnership is hoping to save Queensland’s coast

The University of the Sunshine Coast is looking to the skies to explore the sea, in an ambitious new project to help future-proof shorelines.

This research supports achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and it's impacts and Goal 14: Life below water.