Bad news for our planet: half of the world's sandy beaches could disappear by the end of the century – but with the right steps towards climate mitigation, this threat could be reduced by up to 40%. Most of these beaches are in high density population areas. This erosion is caused by human activity and aggravated by climate change.

A Nature Climate Change article has been released on March 4th, showcasing the findings that emerged from a world first effort that combined 35 years of satellite observations with 82 years of state-of-the-art climate and sea level projections.

It was carried out by a group of leading scientists including Prof Rosh Ranasinghe, holder of the prestigious AXA Chair in Climate change impacts and coastal risks. Rosh also heads IHE Delft’s Department of Coastal & Urban Resilience & Risk and coordinates lead author of Chapter 12, Working Group I of IPCC AR6.

Source: Press release from IHE


Climate mitigation and adaptation challenges ahead

The study shows that without climate mitigation and adaptation almost half of the world’s sandy beaches are under threat of near extinction by the end of the century. In addition to the loss of valuable ecosystems, the associated socioeconomic implications would be severe, especially in tourism-dependent communities where sandy beaches are the main tourist attraction. Small Island nations are among these more vulnerable regions.
In most parts of the world, the projected shoreline dynamics are dominated by sea level rise, meaning that moderate greenhouse gas emission mitigation could prevent up to 40% of the projected shoreline retreat globally.

Different challenges for different countries

Discussing the significance of the findings, Prof. Rosh Ranasinghe highlights their importance at both global and national levels.
“This is the first time fully probabilistic (as opposed to deterministic) projections of future coastline change have been provided at global scale, and as such the utility of the projections are high for emerging risk-informed coastal management/planning frameworks.”
He added that in addition to the global outlook, the group’s findings also provide country-by-country analyses that indicate major coastal adaptation needs for different countries.
“By the end of this century several countries, including Congo, Suriname, Comoros, Benin, Pakistan, Guinea and El Salvador could face losing more than 80% of their sandy coastlines. In terms of total length of coastline, Australia emerges as the potentially most affected country with 12,324 km – 15,439 km of sandy coastline threatened by erosion.”

You can read the Nature Climate Change article here.

Taking action

The projections detailed in the Nature article are expected to contribute to Chapter 12 of the Working Group I contribution to the sixth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR6), which will be released in 2021.

 

Authors
  • Dr Michail Vousdoukas is a Scientific Officer in the Disaster Risk Management Unit of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.
  • Professor Rosh Ranasinghe is the Head of IHE Delft’s Department of Coastal & Urban Resilience & Risk and holder of the prestigious AXA Chair in Climate change impacts and coastal risk. He is also coordinating lead author of Chapter 12, Working Group I of IPCC AR6.
  • Dr Arjen Luijendijk is an expert in the field of modelling morphological impacts of coastal developments at Deltares.
  • Luc Feyen is a researcher at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.
  • Lorenzo Mentaschi is an oceanographer at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.
  • Theocharis Plomaritis is a coastal oceanographer specialized in sediment transport, coastal morphodynamics and associated hazards during high energy low frequency from events at the University of Cadiz.
  • Panos Athanasiou is a PhD candidate working on coastal hazards and coastal risk assessment at Deltares and the University of Twente.

March 2020

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AXA Chair in Climate change impacts and coastal risks

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