How Are the World's Sandy Beaches Doing?

How Are the World's Sandy Beaches Doing?
AP Photo/Koji Sasahara
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Though human beings live on land, the Earth is unquestionably a water world. The oceans cover 71% of our planet and make up 90% of the biosphere. Thus, for most people, warm, sandy beaches serve as idyllic gateways to a whole other world.

Luckily, these beaches are relatively plentiful. Analyzing high-resolution satellite imagery taken from 1984 to 2016 with machine learning algorithms, a team of Dutch researchers calculated that 31% of the world's ice-free coastline is sandy. The researchers also examined how erosion is affecting beaches worldwide.

Their findings were just published in Scientific Reports.

Overall, the news was mixed. While 48% of sandy beaches worldwide are stable and 28% are expanding, 24% are eroding at rates exceeding half a meter per year (roughly 1.6 feet). Beaches in Southern California and India were particular hotspots for erosion. The single worst spot in the world was a 17 kilometer stretch of coastline south of Freeport, Texas, which has eroded at a rate of 15 meters per year for the past three decades! Frequent, extreme storms are almost certainly playing a role.

Oblique aerial photography from Surfside Beach, TX on September 9, 2008 (top) and September 15, 2008, two days after landfall of Hurricane Ike (bottom). Yellow arrows mark features that appear in each image.

Asia was a massive hotspot for coastal accretion. The Chinese in particular have extensively expanded their beaches artificially, while places like Hong Kong and Singapore have reclaimed land from the sea for commercial development and recreation.

The worldwide survey shows that humans are reshaping beaches across the globe, particularly through sand mining, coastal construction, and land reclamation. On the whole, sandy beaches are actually expanding at a rate of 0.33 meters per year.

Source: Luijendijk et al. The State of the World’s Beaches. Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 664 1 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41598-018-24630-6

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