Scientists have long warned that if sea levels continue to rise as a result of global warming and the melting of sea ice, both human and animal habitats could be lost to the sea. However, new research suggests that coastal landscapes, such as beaches, may be more comfortable than we give them credit, but they do have the opportunity to move and land. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, instead warns that coastal defense structures, such as beaches, may limit the ability of beaches to relocate internally and should focus on natural-based solutions to such further damage.
The study comes from an international team of coastal scientists, whose work refutes earlier claims that nearly half of the world’s beaches could become extinct by the end of the 21st century. This gruesome prediction was published in the same journal earlier this year, but it is now facing a reversal that has led to the conclusion that existing methods and available data are not sufficient for such a comprehensive decision.
The return comes from researchers in the United Kingdom, France, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States who said previous studies had ruled out the possibility of beach relocation in response to rising sea levels, but only where space is available. Beaches that are not locked by cliff faces or man-made structures are able to move to land as retreats along shorelines while retaining overall size and more interior appearance.
The prediction, if true, is good news for beaches that can pack up and shift to land, but beaches surrounded by seawater or engineering structures are still not out of the woods. These new environments are likely to disappear as soon as they are locked, and they will first experience a “coastal contraction” as they become narrower and narrower before they completely disappear beneath the waves, the new study said. Researchers have suggested that these beaches should remove structures such as locked seawater, and that beach nutrition through nature-based solutions may be the only way to protect their future.
Andrew Cooper, professor of coastal studies at the University of Ulster and lead author of the new paper, said in a statement: “New approaches are needed to predict the effects of coastal sea-level rise. As the sea level rises, there will be and will be a retreat of the coast, but the beach will survive. The biggest threat to the uninterrupted existence of beaches is the coastal defense structures that limit their ability to move. “