Southern California's beloved beaches threatened by rising seas

March 30, 2017, 9:16 a.m.
Huntington Pier, California
Photo: kesterhu/Shutterstock

When most people think of California, they think of sunny, sandy beaches. The state is known for its coastlines. But within the next eight decades, somewhere between 31 percent to 67 percent of California's iconic beaches will be eroded down to sea cliffs, according to a new computer model that simulates what will happen with sea level rise and changing storm patterns.

PhysOrg explains the science behind this startling conclusion:

The computer model looks at how sand is transported parallel and perpendicular to beaches as well as historical positions of shorelines and changes caused by waves and cycles such as the ocean warming phenomenon El Nino.

According to the researchers, its reliability was shown by accurately reproducing shoreline changes seen between 1995 and 2010.

Patrick Barnard, a USGS geologist and study co-author, said it shows that "massive and costly interventions" will be needed to save the beaches, which he described as both crucial to the Southern California economy and the first line of defense against coastal storm impacts.

Without massive and expensive human intervention up and down the state, the sandy beaches that California's residents and vacationers love so much may be gone entirely by 2100.

“Beaches in Southern California are a crucial feature of the economy, and the first line of defense against coastal storm impacts for the 18 million residents in the region,” said USGS geologist and coauthor, Patrick Barnard.

Not only are beaches being hit by issues exacerbated by climate change, but they're shrinking due to human activity. The Christian Science Monitor points out that dams trap sediment that would normally reach the coastline to replenish the sand of beaches. This also includes cliff erosion, which has been slowed by human infrastructure.

Derek Brockbank, executive director of the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA), says that many of the area’s coastal bluffs have been reinforced for safety, but at the cost of the beaches they once sustained.

It will take significant effort on the part of federal, state and local government entities to protect the state's beaches and keep them around for vacationers and beach combers into the next century.