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Beach erosion

April 2020: Climate change may amplify natural beach erosion which could significantly impact on sensitive wildlife habitats and coastal communities. Researchers are calling for increased adaptive capacities from coastal communities to build resilience and to increase efforts to curb climate change.

Information

Climate change induced coastal erosion is increasingly exposing the fragility of global beaches. Higher ocean temperatures are causing glaciers to melt faster which leads to rising sea levels, increased flooding, and changed wind patterns that significantly contribute to costal erosion. Climate change amplifies natural erosion and challenges the dynamic environment of sandy coastlines. Beaches build resilience by retreating and adapting their morphology and building backshore areas. However, human activity transforming backshore areas into built environments are reducing beaches’ ability to accommodate and recover from erosion. In addition, river dams, catchment barriers, and sand extraction for construction reduce the level of sediment upstream that would normally feed beaches. Researchers estimate that sandy beaches cover more than 30% of the world’s coastline and that the preservation of beaches may require a minimum of 40% reduction in global GHG emissions.

Implications and opportunities

Increased beach erosion may lead to the loss of recreational spots for people and loss of habitats for wildlife. Vanishing beaches may alter animal life cycles and reduce availability of nesting areas for birds, sea turtles, and other species populating coastal habitats. Development of backshore areas, that act as natural buffer zones to protect coastal areas, reduce beaches’ ability to protect ecosystems and buildings from waves, surges, and marine flooding. This may heighten the risk of flooding from higher sea levels and expose areas to extreme weather events such as storms. In turn, this may expose a higher number of homes and livelihoods in coastal areas. A significant proportion of costal populations, existing residential and commercial assets, and public infrastructures are at risk of exposure from beach erosion which may decrease revenues and increase insurance risks. Socio-economic impacts will particularly impact communities that depend on tourism and where sandy beaches are primary tourist attractions such as small island nations. Researcher call for clear pathways to strengthen adaptive capacity and resilience of coastal communities around the globe such as integrated coastal management and the establishment of coastal setback zones.

Limitations

The study uses applied modelling and all results should be seen within the study’s methodological and data limitations.


Sources

Vousdoukas, M. I., et.al. (2020). Sandy coastlines under threat of erosion. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/s41558-020-0697-0 

Luscombe, R., (2020). Will Florida be lost forever to the climate crisis? Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/21/florida-climate-crisis-sea-level-habitat-loss

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.