Coastal demo site

Coast of Catalonia, ES

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Current climate impact trends will exacerbate existing problems regarding water supply, biodiversity loss, flooding and salination.


The 600km long Catalan coast in north-eastern Spain has a wide array of geographical and biodiversity systems that provide ecosystem services. While it’s quite representative of other coastal regions and the Mediterranean, this area is a hotspot of tourism, natural and societal factors, economic activities and interests, urbanisation, agriculture, and critical infrastructure and industries. These compete for resources and make the region highly vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Climate related issues

Rising sea level

Low-lying estuaries, land and infrastructure are prone to floods.

Biodiversity loss

Increasingly frequent and intense marine storms impact coastal species.

Water supply

Chronic water scarcity is aggravated by climate change and tourism.

Key actions

We are creating digital decision support tools for climate change mitigation and adaptation and also:

  • increasing water availability and quality through hybrid decentralised management systems;
  • developing monitoring methods to mitigate the effect of sea-level rise and marine storms on coastal erosion; 
  • assessing pathogen resilience of drinking water treatment plants;
  • creating tools to predict trends of extreme events and their economic impact. 

Co-creation of these solutions is at the heart of our approach; key stakeholders are included in designing and validation.

Relevant sectors:



Spatial planning

Water utilities



Transport infrastructures

Our ambitions

“Climate change effects and their consequences are becoming more evident along the Catalan Coast. Climate adaptation measures are required in this region to ensure a safe environment and human health.

Within the Coastal demonstration site, we defined ambitious goals for the IMPETUS project. These ambitions are aligned with the Work Programme on Climate Change Adaptation proposed by the Government of Catalonia. The solutions include digital tools, guidelines and physical implementations to support local and regional decision-makers. Stakeholders’ engagement and enhanced behavioural change are strengthened to co-create and co-design adaptation strategies. There is also a keen interest to transfer and replicate such an approach to similar Coastal regions. 

Do you want to learn a bit more about our work? Feel free to contact us. 

Queralt Plana, Eurecat


Region-specific solutions

Below sea-level multifunctional wetlands to adapt to sea-level rise

Constructed wetlands have been used to treat urban wastewater but are rarely applied to agricultural wastewater. Nutrients, metals, pesticides and organic pollutants have been successfully removed at rates of 30-99%, using processes such as adsorption, precipitation, filtration, sedimentation, microbial degradation, and plant uptake.

Our approach:

  • Construct a multifunctional wetland, including novel active layers, in flood-risk below-sea-level areas used for agriculture.
  • Operate this on a pilot basis using different management strategies (wet/dry periods), using solar pumping to feed it with agricultural wastewater, and remove nutrients, pesticides, and organic pollutants before discharge.
  • Evaluate the ecosystem services of this wetland: water quality improvement, coastal protection, biodiversity and climate regulation (carbon sequestration), and compare them to the centralised systems currently in place.
  • Demonstrate feasibility for decentralised systems such as near-sea on-farm small wetlands;
  • Test that this approach aligns with internationally accepted nature-based solution principles and elaborate a plan for upscaling the solution.

Sand dune restoration and monitoring

Human pressure, landscape use and how nature is valued, affect beach dune systems and can result in conflicts of interest. To prevent this, IMPETUS is implementing nature-based solutions such as dune restoration. On the Catalan coast, the project is monitoring and analysing the current dune system and assessing the impacts of climate change, such as through the frequency and intensity of marine storms, as well as the human impact mainly through tourism.

Our approach:

  • Test, monitor and assess restoration actions on tourist beaches regarding their resilience against marine storms.
  • Enhance biodiversity and promote citizens’ behavioural change.
  • Test that the solution aligns with the IUCN Global Standard for nature-based solutions.
  • Propose guidelines to improve the effectiveness of other restoration actions and create a plan for upscaling dune restoration in coastal Catalonia.

Decentralised, hybrid, fit-for-use reclamation system for increasing water availability

Decentralised systems to treat grey water before discharge or re-use commonly use conventional or advanced technologies, such as a membrane bioreactor or nature-based solutions (NBS) such as constructed wetlands.

Our approach:

  • Design a compact hybrid decentralised water reclamation system and install it in a tourist camping complex.
  • Take into account challenges linked to the seasonal occupation of the complex.
  • Assess the quality of water produced and its suitability for irrigation and cleaning purposes.
  • Demonstrate the feasibility of the system, showing that in these circumstances hybrid treatment reduces energy requirements and the system footprint.

Sediment delivery to coastal areas via irrigation networks

To help protect coastal areas against sea-level rise and flooding, river sediments need to accumulate at the coast. IMPETUS proposes a computational model to track the sediment transport capacity of rivers and irrigation channels as a step towards improved sediment management.

Our approach:

  • Use irrigation networks to deliver river sediments to agricultural areas below sea level in the most threatened coastal areas.
  • Use Computational Fluid Dynamics to model the irrigation system of a test delta estuary site in the region.
  • Validate the existing computational tools for the Ebro Delta context, to support local decision making about water irrigation management.
  • Make these computational tools available for use in similar environments that need strategies for efficient sediment transport.

Improving bathing water quality in extreme storm events

Disease-causing microbes such as E.coli bacteria can cause stomach pain and cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or even respiratory or blood infections. Climate change can make such microbes more prevalent and better able to infect humans, for example when bathing in the sea or camping in sites with inadequate sewage treatment.

Our approach:

  • Use existing tools that predict, monitor and manage water-borne diseases.
  • Implement a Combined Sewer Overflow management tool that uses advanced online pathogen monitoring and water quality models to prevent water quality decrease.

Increasing drinking water plant resilience to water-borne pathogens

Blue-green algae grow well in temperatures of around 25°C. Algal blooms usually develop during the warmer months of the year, when water temperature is higher and there is more sunlight, but a warming climate provides optimal conditions more often or for longer. Freshwater, estuarine and marine algae can impact water quality, in some cases leading to health risks for people, stock, wildlife and domestic animals.

Our approach:

  • Implement advanced monitoring tools in freshwater reservoirs to predict algal bloom events.
  • Prevent algal growth in reservoirs using technology based on ultrasonic treatment.
  • Evaluate solar disinfection for the removal of algal toxins during drinking water treatment.
  • Implement quantitative microbial risk assessment techniques.
  • Develop a decision support tool to consider specificities regarding the most vulnerable coastal regions and evaluate the resilience of current drinking water treatment systems.

Changes in the spatial distribution of species

Where different species of plants and animals live and thrive is highly dependent on factors such as the underlying geology and soil, the topography of the landscape, how much disturbance it experiences and which other organisms are there to provide food or competition. The climate is another, very significant factor.

Our approach:

  • Use the latest modelling techniques and analytical frameworks to explore how likely it is that species will change their distributions in the region because of climate change.
  • Assess potential changes in the spatial distributions of a wide range of species in coastal dunes and marshlands along the Catalonian coast, comparing projected future distributional changes with past and current distributions, taking advantage of the IMPETUS digital toolkits.
  • Classify the assessed species (including vertebrates, invertebrates and plants) according to their risk of local extinction or significant decrease in local populations and their opportunities to expand their ranges.
  • Identify climate change adaptation measures that could strengthen the resilience of target species and ecosystems.

Satellite-based coastal erosion hot-spot assessment

IMPETUS will assess the impact on coastal erosion by studying the effects of past and future alterations of wave dynamics and morpho-hydrological conditions.

Our approach:

  • Establish a consistent time and spatial coverage of the Catalan coast by combining reliable datasets with synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) detection.
  • Determine which areas are most vulnerable to coastal erosion, which will be key to identifying critical infrastructure in relation to the probable occurrence of extreme events.

Economic impact assessment of physical climate risk

Socio-economic tools and risk projections make it possible to assess climate risks and establish projections and metrics regarding future investments.

Our approach:

  • Identify highly vulnerable hot-spots using open datasets for Copernicus services and satellite-derived variables.
  • Transform this knowledge into a specific regional model and include this in the demo site Resilience Knowledge Booster (RKB).
  • Use the RKB and regional model to generate economic assessment metrics that can be used to aid decision-making about investments and future mitigation plans.

Pursuing behavioural change for climate-resilient tourism

Persuading people to change their behaviour and sustain new behaviours over time is a major challenge. People who live and work in any region that is impacted by climate change need to understand what the risks and challenges are, how they can make positive changes, and how this can benefit them as well as the environment.

Our approach:

  • Set up small thematic groups of regional stakeholders and present them with hypothetical situations regarding climate change impacts.
  • Increase awareness about climate change impacts, especially in the tourism sector.
  • Co-design and demonstrate specific solutions for climate change adaptation in the tourism sector.
  • Promote behavioural change among all ranks of employees in companies in the tourism sector.

Rising sea level

The effects of sea level rise are already visible today: between 1995 and 2015, Catalan beaches receded by an average of 0.44 meters yearly. Coastal erosion, due to sea level rise and more frequent storms, is expected to increase with climate change. This hazard will have an increased impact in areas with infrastructures and natural habitats located very close to the seashore, as in the IMPETUS Coastal demo site in Catalonia.

*Sea level (mean sea level) is an average surface level of one or more among Earth’s coastal bodies of water from which heights such as elevation may be measured.

"In Santa Susana municipality we are implementing a comprehensive sustainability strategy that includes interventions for renaturing the maritime frontline to build the resilience of our coast to sea-level rise and coastal erosion. Any support to visualise and quantify the positive impacts of such activities on coastal erosion is key to inform our next steps and demonstrate the benefits of climate change adaptation measures to other coastal municipalities.”


On the Catalan coast, in Spain, the population density is particularly high along the coast, raised by a high tourist activity. Half of coastal municipalities have reported damage to existing beach infrastructure. 

Looking ahead, sea levels are projected to rise even more, by 21 to 25 cm by the middle of the century. This will increase coastal erosion, putting communities, infrastructures, and natural habitats at risk.

Concerns are particularly high in the Catalan coast, where nearly 60% of the first 100 meters along the coast are urbanised. This exacerbates vulnerability in sectors such as transportation, energy, sanitation, communications, ports and infrastructure. An illustrative example is one of the main railway lines, which runs along the coast and must be relocated further inland.

Despite having significant data available on coastal erosion, coastal managers have yet to fully utilise it for practical purposes. IMPETUS aims to make coastal erosion data easily available, facilitating coastline management and fostering better planning for the future.


Biodiversity loss

In coastal Catalonia, rising sea levels, more frequent and intense storms, and other climate-related factors are causing significant changes in coastal ecosystems:

For instance, in the Ebro Delta, a highly anthropized area, biodiversity has adapted in recent decades to exploit different survival niches. Specific species groups, such as waterbirds or salt-tolerant plants, have adjusted their distribution areas to ongoing environmental changes. Various studies predict an increase in temperature between 1.5 and 2 °C and a rise in sea level between 10 and 30 cm in the Mediterranean region by the year 2050. This shift in environmental variables will alter their distribution areas to survive.

*Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth, in all its forms, from genes and bacteria to entire ecosystems such as forests or coral reefs.

"People need to understand how climate change is affecting coastal biodiversity and ecosystems By doing so, we can help mitigate and adapt to the new conditions providing tools that enable more effective conservation actions”


The Catalan coast faces a multitude of challenges that threaten its rich biodiversity. ising sea levels, more frequent and intense storms, and other climate-related factors have an impact on the distribution, abundance, and survival of species, leading to biodiversity loss, the arrival of invasive alien species, and disruptions in vital ecosystem functioning and services such as shoreline protection. This not only compromises the resilience to climate change impacts but also affects the trophic web and fisheries, diminishing the region’s genetic resources and its potential for adaptation and innovation. Furthermore, the decline in biodiversity undermines the cultural heritage and recreational value of the area, ultimately affecting the livelihoods and well-being of local populations.

For example, the increase in temperature and sea level could result in a 75% habitat loss for waterfowl in the Ebro Delta. Sustainable management of alternative habitats, such as rice fields in the area, may serve as a buffer against the impacts of climate change for thousands of birds that utilize wetlands annually.


Water supply

According to UN, the quantity and duration of the droughts has been increased a 30% since 2000, mainly due to the climate change and high temperature that favour the water evaporation. By 2050, it is expected that the 75% of the world population will be affected by the droughts and will be forced to emigrate to other regions. In IMPETUS Coastal region, droughts are already affecting water availability and its use.

*Water scarcity occurs when the water supply is not sufficient to cover the demand, water infrastructure is inadequate, or institutions are failing to balance everyone’s needs.

“In Catalonia, there is a chronic water scarcity which has been (and will be) aggravated by climate change. During the last decade extreme events have been occurring such as severe storms and prolonged droughts. In IMPETUS, we work to mitigate the impact of the climate change on water scarcity, and the tourism industry.”


Climate change is making extreme weather events like storms and droughts more likely and more severe. For instance, drought periods are cyclic phenomena though they are becoming frequent impacting the available water quantity and its quality.

Europe is experiencing an increase of water scarcity and droughts, especially in Mediterranean regions like Catalonia. Catalan watersheds have dropped below 15% of their reservoirs’ capacity due to the low precipitation, and the increase of temperature. And since February 4, the Catalan Government declared the state of emergency because of the prolonged drought.

Drought periods increased by climate change not only promote the chronic water scarcity in Catalonia, but also the population growth and tourism. Thus, there is a need to optimise the water used, improve the integrated water management, and implement control equipment together with early warning systems.

Within the IMPETUS Coastal demo case, adaptation solutions will be tested and demonstrated to face these challenges affecting water supply. For example, strategies for climate resilient tourism, decentralised systems for water reuse, predict and prevent water quality deterioration caused by extreme storm or droughts events, etc.



High temperatures

Record-breaking summertime temperatures have been recorded in the Netherlands in recent years. With global temperatures rising, such extreme weather events will occur more often, and for longer periods. Prolonged high temperatures, with warm nights as well as hot days, can cause heat stress* and related health issues, particularly among city populations.

*Heat stress occurs when the human body cannot get rid of excess heat and can impact wellbeing through conditions such as heat stroke, exhaustion, cramps and rashes.

"We want to enable municipality decision makers who are working on spatial developments to identify heat stress 'hot spots' and cool areas, analyse the future effects of climate change, and model the effect of different heat stress-reducing measures. The tool must provide them with an easy starting point to integrate heat stress risks in their projects."


Despite the cooling effect of the sea in the region of Zeeland, the growing risk of heat stress has become a concern.

Elderly and other vulnerable people are more impacted by the effects of prolonged heat, which can cause headaches, dizziness, insomnia and other health issues – even death. Excess temperatures also affect general comfort and liveability of cities. Water quality can be reduced, both for drinking and swimming, and infrastructure can be affected. Buildings and concrete surfaces trap heat, potentially leading to damage, and release it during the night, keeping temperatures warm.

During heat waves, it is important that everyone has access to a cool and comfortable place. Appropriate spatial planning can help to decrease and deal with heat stress. Environmental factors like water bodies, trees, and shade have a major impact on stress caused by high temperatures. Therefore, planting trees, removing concrete surfaces, creating green roofs and cool spaces can improve our comfort and health. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is developing a digital tool to support regional decision making for city planning to address these needs.


Flood risk

By 2050, sea-level within this region is predicted to rise by 15-40 cm, with more frequent extreme weather and more (severe) storms triggered by climate change. These changes will exacerbate the natural risk of flooding in the IMPETUS ‘Atlantic’ region, because it is surrounded by rivers and the sea, and is below sea level.

*Risk takes into account two aspects; the chance that an event will occur and the negative impact of such an event once it occurs. When there is a low chance that an event will occur, but its impacts are huge, the risk is still significant.

“In the Netherlands, an extensive system of dikes protects us against sea and river flooding. We have always put our faith in this defence and focused almost solely on flood prevention. However, pressure on our system will increase with climate change and rising sea levels. To adapt and maintain a safe living environment, we should develop other safety measures, like more robust spatial planning and contingency plans."


Rotterdam city, is located in Rijnmond – ‘mouth of the Rhine’. The Rhine river flows through this densely populated area and characterises the region. Protections such as sea dikes and storm surge barriers have been constructed to protect the region, but flooding still occurs.

People living in the city are accustomed to seeing smaller floods. The changing climate affects the interplay between rainfall, river levels and sea storms, increasing the flooding risk. Water levels could rise by a few metres, even in populated areas, with potentially massive impacts. 

Mitigation measures such as storm surge barriers reduce the chance that high water reaches the city, but to minimise the impact of floods when they do occur, adaptation strategies are also needed. A city that can adapt to be safe from floods must be carefully designed. How best to design such an adaptive city?

Critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and evacuation routes, must be accessible at all times. Planning how to best protect them, homes and lives is complex. Flood water behaves in a complex way and flood risks show strong spatial variations. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is developing a digital tool to support regional decision making for adaptive city planning. 


Energy and waste water

To become climate-neutral by 2050, climate mitigation* efforts are crucial in our strategy for how to deal with climate change. Reducing our energy consumption is a significant mitigation step. In the Netherlands, 15% of energy is consumed in the Rijnmond area around the port of Rotterdam, in large part by a major petrochemical industry cluster.

*Climate mitigation encompasses measures such as technologies, processes, or practices that reduce carbon emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.


The Rotterdam port petrochemical industry cluster is Europe’s largest. It consumes 70% of the Rijnmond region’s energy. A large part of this energy is wasted (64%, 203 petajoules). More than half of that energy is lost with wastewater. In addition, most energy processes within these industries rely on fossil fuels, which has a significant impact on the climate.

Energy use must be minimised and fossil fuels should be replaced by renewable sources if climate change is to be mitigated. Electrification of processes opens up the possibility to use more renewable energy and can greatly impact decarbonisation. Recovering wasted heat would significantly reduce energy consumption and is a first step towards a more circular industry. 

Supporting industries in a transition towards climate-neutrality depends on identifying how best to reduce their carbon footprint without sacrificing production or performance. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is creating a digital tool that supports decision making about pathways towards an effective energy transition for EU industry.