GEO101 Earth Science

Colorado State University Global

CoastlinesAntrim Coast in Northern Ireland is one of the most geologically mystical and beautiful places in the world. It is home to Giant’s Causeway, an area of interlocking basalt columns formed from volcanic activity around 50 to 60 million years ago (UNESCO, 2009). Basalt columns are not all that unique and are a common feature of coastal volcanic activity. This 4 mile stretch of coast is Ireland’s biggest tourist attraction but as beautiful and popular as the site is, it is in danger of rising sea levels and coastal erosion (Weaver, 2008).

During the Paleocene Epoch, the Antrim Coastline was subjected to intense volcanic activity. Molten basalt cut its way through the chalk beds of the coast and created a massive plateau of lava (University of Toronto, 2008). When the lava met the ocean, it cooled rapidly and contraction occurred. This contraction fractured in a manner similar to drying mud, creating pillars which continued to fracture into “biscuits” (University of Toronto, 2008). Since 1693 the formation has been studied intensely by geologists and much of modern geology has been shaped by the studies that have occurred over the last 300 years. The region has also been the subject of many artists and in 1739 became an international topic after one artist submitted her watercolor painting to the Royal Dublin Society (Arnold, 2002).

CoastlinesScientists from the Queen’s University and the University of Ulster fear that by the end of this century, in a worst case scenario, that water levels will have risen about a full meter and that by 2050, will have at least risen 25 centimeters (Weaver, 2008). In 2013 and 2014 the coast was hit repeatedly by a series of turbulent storms and high tides battered away at the coast causing the same amount of erosion that would typically be documented over 5 to 15 years (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2015). It would seem that much of Ireland’s northern coast is under threat by climate change. It is expected that Ireland will see warmer temperatures, wetter winters and drier summers in addition to rising sea levels, increased storm frequency and extreme waves (Weaver, 2008).

Much of Northern Ireland’s coastline is “owned” by the National Trust, Crown Estate and other private landowners who have all accepted the challenge of protecting sites all along the shore (Maguire, 2008). The main concern of these landowners is the protection not just of these historic and iconic features of their homeland but also the millions of tourists that frequent the region throughout the year.


Arnold, Bruce (2002). Irish Art: A Concise History. New York: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-20148-X

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2015, May 27). Living with change: Our shifting shores. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from

Maguire, S. (2008). Giant’s Causeway remains Northern Ireland’s Top Attraction. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from

UNESCO. (2009). Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from

University of Toronto. (2008, December 25). Mystery Of Hexagonal Column Formations Such As Giant’s Causeway Solved With Kitchen Materials. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 16, 2020 from

Weaver, M. (2008, January 22). Global warming brings big problems to Giant’s Causeway. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from

Image References

Tomlinson, R. (2018). Giant’s Causeway [Basalt blocks on the shoreline of the Giant’s Causeway]. Retrieved 2020, from

Tomlinson, R. (2018). Giant’s Causeway [The Giant’s Chimneys, exposed to the erosion process]. Retrieved 2020, from