The coast is a special environment due to its complex and dynamic construction. Three major elements of the nature - terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric - meet on coastal areas. Coasts are also important areas of human settlement and activity. Coastal geography aims to describe and understand the interacting processes. Thus, the coastal zones are globally interesting environments for geographical research.
The natural and human processes and activities that are at work on the world's coasts induce great changes in the coastal environments. Understanding the individual processes and their site-specific form of interaction is a challenge for coastal geography. Gaining knowledge about the coastal systems enables assessment of the impacts of the global environmental change. The scale of factors that alter coastal areas range from local to global, even astronomic (tidal activity).
The coast is not a sharp border between land and sea, but a relatively wide transitional zone between them. Definitions of coast usually include land areas that are affected by marine influence and sea areas that are affected by terrestrial influence. Hence, it is difficult to precisely delineate the coast.
Coasts are affected by different natural processes, such as shore processes, fluvial activity and aeolian processes. Matter and energy are transported over and along the shore. These factors make the coasts highly dynamic systems, which are sensitive to changes in any of the processes.
Tradition of coastal geography
The systematic mapping of the Finnish coasts begun effectively in the early 18th century, motivated mainly by military purposes. The special features of the Finnish coastline attracted travelers and writers long before the first scientific works of the coasts were published from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. The second period of coastal geography tradition between the World Wars was characterized by botanical, ornithological and marine biological research, together with ethnographical and communications studies.
Further studies about the physical environment, population dynamics, settlement distribution, economical circumstances and social structures were abundant in the third research period beginning in the mid-twentieth century. Spanning over the last twenty years, also a fourth era of coastal geography can be identified, characterized by the emergence of coastal spatial analysis. Similar periods can be distinguished also in the development of international coastal geography in broad terms.
Coastal geography at the University of Turku
The first academic thesis concerning coastal issues at the Department of Geography was made in 1934. Since then, a number of theses have been made, mostly in the seventies and early eighties (83 Master's theses, 7 Licenciate theses and 8 Doctoral theses). The themes of the academic theses range from settlement, economy, traffic and tourism to vegetation, geomorphology and sedimentology. Research publications reflect the same frequency pattern than the academic theses. Researchers like Olavi Granö, Mauri Pyökäri, Hannu Mansikkaniemi and Aarre Heino, among with many others, have made an impact in the coastal geography tradition in Turku. Since the late nineties, a shift towards the application of coastal geoinformatics can be identified in the coastal works.