People have always associated the sea with feelings of serenity and relaxation. Science has also told us that the sea breeze is good for our well-being and health. The sound of the wave patterns in the brain lulls us into a tranquil state and when we’re relaxed, the body and mind likewise rejuvenate. When we are floating on the water, the blood in our lower limbs is pumped up towards the abdominal area and the chest region, where the heart is located, and this brings more oxygen into the brain, making us more alert and active. A healthy amount of sun rays cures certain skin diseases, such as psoriasis and dermatitis. But the same beaches that provide us with medical benefits are now in peril because of climate change.
Sandy beaches at risk of disappearing
Michalis I. Vousdoukas from the European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC) of Italy and team shared in their study, which recently appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change, that half of the world’s sandy beaches are at risk of disappearing by 2100 if no action is taken to lessen the greenhouse gas emissions.
Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, shared the breakdown of total greenhouse gas emissions by sector in 2010 alone, measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) as follows: waste (1.45 billion t), industry (3.47 billion t), residential and commercial (3.74 billion t), transport (5.54 billion t), forestry (1.18 billion t), land use sources (5.54 billion t), agriculture (5.08 billion t), energy (23.24 billion t), and other sources (267.61 million t).
The United States Environmental Protection Agency also published the global emissions by gas as follows: carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuel and industrial processes (65%), carbon dioxide emitted from human-induced impacts, such as forestry and other land use (11%), methane (16%), nitrous oxide (6%), and fluorinated gases (2%). In 2014, the top carbon dioxide emitters were China (30%), United States (15%), EU-28 (9%), Russian Federation (5%), Japan (4%), and other (30%).
Assuming that a better outcome is made to address climate change, about 37% of the world’s beaches would still be lost by 20100, Vousdoukas and the team explained.
Long-term observation of global coastal erosion
The team analyzed satellite images that show the changes in the shoreline from 1984 to 2016. This is when they found that a quarter of the world’s sandy beaches had eroded at about 0.5m rate per year and shed more than 28,000 square kilometers of land to the sea. This was also mentioned by Simon Boxall, Senior Lecturer in Ocean and Earth Science from the University of Southampton, and Abiy Kebede, a Lecturer in Flood and Coastal Engineering from the Brunel University in London. The two were not involved in the recent study.
Vousdoukas and the team wrote that the extent to which the beaches will be at risk will still depend on the increase of the global temperatures. A great temperature increase means more violent storms and sea-level rise, which will cause the sandy beaches to vanish. There are also many coastal areas and not just beaches that are heavily affected by human activity, including inland dams and seashore construction. This reduces the amount of fine sand (silt) that is flowing into the ocean necessary for the recovery of the beach.
List of countries and islands that will take the hardest hit
The authors also noted the countries that would be more affected because of climate change, including Guinea-Bissau and Gambia in West Africa. These countries are at risk of losing more than 60% of their sandy beaches. Jersey island in the English Channel, the Comoros islands, and Pakistan are almost in the same dire situation. In terms of the total beach coastline that will be lost, Australia will be most affected as more than 7,080 miles or 11,400 kilometers of its beach coastline are at risk. The study also mentioned the United States, Chile, Argentina, Russia, China, and Mexico, which could potentially lose a thousand kilometers of their beaches.
Geoscience center British Geological Survey’s expert on coastal hazards and resilience Andres Payo, who was not involved in the study, said via daily US News that many generalizations and assumptions could alter the outcome of Vousdoukas and team’s analysis both quantitatively and qualitatively. However, Vousdoukas stated that the estimates provided by their team were even “a bit conservative” as the risk could be higher.
Preventing shoreline retreat
Vousdoukas shared that they considered two warming scenarios to come up with their analysis. One is when the average global temperature increases by 4.3 Fahrenheit or 2.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The second scenario is when the increase is twice as high. Based on their estimate, about 40% of the shoreline retreat can be prevented by reducing the emissions of greenhouse gas. Aside from that, the growing and large populations living near the coast also need to be protected using other measures. Take the case of the Netherlands, as it has been centuries since it battled the sea and people there were able to reclaim the substantial areas of their low-lying land. The country’s experience has demonstrated that beach erosion can be mitigated using effective site-specific coastal planning. Eventually, the methods will help achieve a stable coastline.
Types of beaches
There are several types of beaches based on their composition and sandy beaches are the most common of all beach types in the world. It is a type of beach that typically occurs on the coasts and experience low-energy waves, causing the sand to be deposited to the beach after being transported by the ocean currents. However, sandy beaches are also the most susceptible to backwash erosion, tsunamis, and powerful storms. According to World Atlas, drastic measures should be used to remedy backwash erosion. One way is through beach nourishment by depositing sand from other places to the beach.
Other types of beaches are pebble beaches, boulder beaches, shell beaches, and sea glass. German database company Statista published the list of the longest beaches in the world. This includes Praia do Cassino Beach in Brazil (150 miles), Ninety Mile Beach in Australia (90 miles), Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh (75 miles), Padre Island National Seashore in the United States (70 miles), and Playa Novillero in Mexico (56 miles).
Careful attention to the world’s environment, particularly sandy beaches, should be done to avoid the predictions from this new study.