Earlier this year, the European Commission's Joint Research Centre predicted that by 2100, half of the world's sandy beaches might disappear due to rising sea levels triggered by climate change. However, a recent study from international coastal scientists claims that sandy beaches would be able to survive rising sea levels before the 22nd century.
The team, led by the University of Plymouth, published their study in the journal Nature Climate Change. They wrote that as long as beaches would have space to expand, they can cope with rising sea levels caused by climate change.
The first paper, "Sandy coastlines under threat of erosion," was also published in the same journal. The researchers argued that reducing current levels of greenhouse gas emissions could prevent up to 40% of shoreline retreat.
Data from satellites and over 80 years of climate models and sea-level rise projections were analyzed by the team. They also simulated over 100 million storm events that would also affect coastal erosion.
Beaches Migrating Landward
According to the authors of the new study, it is impossible to predict how coastal areas will look like by the end of the 21st century based on today's available data and numerical methods. Potentially, beaches can move towards the land as shorelines are affected by sea levels.
When coasts are wide enough to have accommodation space, sandy beaches will be able to retain their general shape but position more inland. Beaches with coastal cliffs and seawalls would likely disappear, however, since these structures cannot move towards the land.
On the other hand, sandy beaches with coastal planes, lagoons, salt marshes, or dunes would be able to move landward. As a result, sandy beaches would migrate landward, be slightly elevated, and not go extinct as previously predicted.
Professor Andrew Cooper said that there is a need for new methods to predict how sea-level rise affects coastal regions around the world. A greater understanding of coastal morphology would help develop the necessary shoreline response to realistic scenarios. "The biggest threat to the continued existence of beaches is coastal defense structures that limit their ability to migrate."
Survival of Tiny Island Nations
In June, Professor Gerd Masselink's team published another study predicting that the smallest Polynesian island nations cannot completely drown as previously predicted by other researchers.
Their research revealed that coral reef islands could adapt to changing sea levels. The tide carries sediment along the coast which increases the elevation of coral reefs and keeping the islands habitable.
However, it is important to address the problems of coastal erosion and anticipate the loss of land in the future, said Masselink. It is also best to develop efficient coastal management strategies such as avoiding infrastructure along or near the coast.
In the United Kingdom, Coastal Change Management areas are places that would most likely be affected by sea-level rise in the future. Avoiding development in these areas would prevent "coastal squeeze and loss of beaches." One solution would be to remove seawalls so that sandy beaches can naturally migrate landward.
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