Shifting sands pose new problem

With sea levels rising and coastal erosion washing away more and more sand, many beaches are now slowly disappearing.

This is such a large problem that organizations like the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are researching solutions. However, the classic coastal erosion theory, the Bruun Rule, is insufficient for thorough analysis of many of the world’s beaches. Some topics, like climate change, are excluded from this traditional method, so Roshanka Ranasinghe and associates at UNESCO and TU Delft are studying the areas the Bruun Rule has left blank.

Ranasinghe’s team developed a model building on the Bruun Rule to understand the impact of climate change on coastal erosion. While they focus on coastal effects on inlets, research suggests that “only 25 to 50 percent of anticipated coastline change in these areas can be predicted using the Bruun effect.” This underestimation of coastal erosion has implications for those living on or near a beach anywhere on the globe.

According to Western Carolina University, people have been flocking to affected areas. Their website says, “In recent decades, areas within five miles of the shoreline have experienced population growth rates three times the national average.” Increased population leads to increased development, which can have a negative impact on the environment.

Jess Bidgood of the New York Times said the Matunuck, Rhode Island coast has “lost about 20 feet in a recent 12-year period,” greatly affecting the quality of life and society in the area. Julian Barbière, of UNESCO, observed, “In northwest Africa, the coasts are economically important since a large part of the gross domestic product (GDP) is derived from coastal activities such as fishing, tourism and commerce.”

The current remediation techniques, such as retaining walls and sand bags, alleviate coastal erosion, but will not stop the process over time. The alternative of moving developments further from the beachfront is unattractive to those already living in coastal areas. As the problems continue to intensify in the coming years, it remains to be seen what will happen to those who have built their houses on shifting sands.

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