(CNN) – Climate change poses an existential threat to the world’s sandy beaches, and up to half of them could disappear by the end of the century, according to a new study.
Even by 2050, some coasts could be unrecognizable from what we see today: 14% to 15% could face severe erosion.
While the amount of lost beach will vary by location, the study found that many densely populated areas, including those on the US east coast. UU., South Asia and Europe central, you could see some coasts retreat inland almost 100 meters by 2100.
“We consider the threshold of 100 meters because if the erosion exceeds 100 meters, then this means that the beach is most likely to disappear because most of the world’s beaches are even narrower than 100 meters,” said Michalis Vousdoukas, a Coastal oceanographer and scientist of the European Commission, lead author of the study. “In a way, we consider it a conservative evaluation.”
The study was published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change and was carried out by scientists from the Common Research Center of the European Commission, as well as universities in Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.
Using updated projections of sea level rise, the researchers analyzed how they would go to beaches around the world in the future with higher seas and more damaging storms.
They also considered natural processes such as wave erosion and the underlying geology of a beach, as well as human factors, such as coastal building developments, dams and beach feeding efforts, all of which can affect the health of a beach.
The study found that sea level rise is expected to exceed these other variables, and the more heat trapping gases humans put into the atmosphere, the greater the impacts on the world’s beaches.
It’s hard to overstate how important the world’s beaches are.
They cover more than a third of the world’s coasts and serve as a critical buffer to protect coastal areas from storm surge.
Beaches are also important economic engines, which support recreation, tourism and other activities.
And in some regions, the beach is more than just a holiday destination.
In places like Brazil and Australia, life near the coast revolves around the beach for much of the year.
“There are large parts of the world where sandy beaches have a value that cannot be monetized directly,” said Vousdoukas.
Some of the most popular stretches of sand in the world are already waging a war against physics.
Normally, beaches are dynamic environments. Coasts are supposed to naturally change and change with the tide and respond to changes in sea level.
“The coast we see today is only a snapshot in time,” said Robert Young, director of the Program for the Study of Coastal Litter at the University of Western Carolina and a coastal geologist who was not involved in this study. “Our beaches, our wetlands and estuaries, move from side to side in response to sea level change and have done so since time began.”
However, scientists say that when we develop near water, it interrupts the ability to move a beach and stops the natural processes that allow the sand to replenish itself.
Today, many of the beaches that face the worst erosion problems are located in urbanized areas, where skyscrapers and roads collide with the coast.
Places like Miami Beach are transporting thousands of tons of sand in trucks to mend heavily eroded coasts, while others have built huge dikes and breakwaters in an attempt to keep the precious sand in place.
But the financial and environmental costs of these projects are huge, and scientists say the rising seas and more powerful storms, supercharged by a weather warmer, they will make this a losing battle.
“Right now, what we are trying to do everywhere is keep the coast in place. But in the coming decades, we won’t be able to do that, even if we want to, ”said Young.
The new study found that as the sea level continues to rise, more and more beaches will face erosion problems.
The study found that Australia will probably have the most affected coast, with at least 11,400 kilometers of coastline, approximately 50% of the entire sandy coast of the country, which could be threatened by 2100.
Other countries that could see large areas of eroded coast are Chile, China, U.S, Russia, Mexico and Argentina.
Vousdoukas said that small island states are also likely to suffer, especially those in the Caribbean due to their flat terrain.
The researchers discovered that humans have some control over what happens on the world’s beaches.
If the world’s governments can adhere to modest cuts to heat-trapped gas pollution, researchers found that 17% of projected beach losses by 2050 could be avoided, a number that increases to 40% by 2100 if Greenhouse gases are limited.
“By trying to achieve the objectives of the Paris agreement, we can reduce 40% of the impact we project in our study,” said Vousdoukas.