Sandy beaches line more than 30 percent of the world’s coastlines, playing critical roles in local economies, cultures, and as natural buffers to coastal storms. Now, scientists are projecting that more than half of the world’s sandy beaches could vanish by the end of the century due to worsening erosion and sea level rise, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The scientists did find, however, that even moderate climate change action could prevent 17 percent of this shoreline retreat by 2050 and 40 percent by 2100.
The findings are part of the first global assessment on what will happen to sandy shorelines in the coming decades. The team of European scientists analyzed 35 years of satellite data and 82 years of climate and sea level rise projections, and ran more than 100 million storm event simulations. Increasing urban density, population growth, and coastal development, coupled with rising sea levels, will “substantially impact the shape of the world’s coastline,” the scientists write.
Several countries could lose more than 60 percent of their sandy coastlines under both moderate and worst-case warming scenarios, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Suriname, and Pakistan. Australia could lose the most in terms of total length — 9,227 miles, or 50 percent of the country’s sandy coastlines, are at risk of disappearing by 2100 under worst-case warming. Canada is second in total length, with up to 8,963 miles at risk of being lost, followed by Chile, Mexico, and China. The United States is fifth, with up to 3,436 miles at risk.
“What we find is that by the end of the century around half of the beaches in the world will experience erosion that is more than 100 meters,” Michalis Vousdoukas, a coastal oceanographer at the European Commission’s Joint Research Center and lead author of the new study, told the Associated Press. “It’s likely that they will be lost.”