Sea level rise could erode many of Southern California’s beaches

Some Southern California beaches are already shrinking, with experts estimating between 31 percent and 67 percent of the state's beaches may be gone by 2100. Photo by Daniel Hoover/U.S. Geological Survey

March 29 (UPI) — More than half of Southern California’s beaches could be gone by the end of the century. According to new research, sea level rise could lead to the complete erosion of between 31 and 67 percent of Southern California beaches by 2100.

Scientists used a new model called CoSMoS-COAST — short for Coastal Storm Modeling System-Coastal One-line Assimilated Simulation Tool — to simulate the effects of rising seas on Southern California beaches.

The findings, published this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research, suggest severe erosion could leave coastal infrastructure and sea-cliffs exposed to rising seas.

“Losing the protecting swath of beach sand between us and the pounding surf exposes critical infrastructure, businesses and homes to damage,” lead study author Sean Vitousek said in a news release. “Beaches are natural resources, and it is likely that human management efforts must increase in order to preserve them.”

Vitousek, now a professor of civil and material engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, helped develop the CoSMoS-COAST model while working as a post-doctoral fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The model analyzes how sea level rise and shifting storm patterns will affect coastlines. Its algorithms measure sediment transport by both longshore and cross-shore currents. The model can also account for a variety of coastal structures, including dunes, bluffs, cliffs, estuaries, river mouths and man-made infrastructure.

During testing, the model accurately simulated shoreline changes that occurred between 1995 and 2010.

Vitousek and his colleagues hope their research will inspire more aggressive mitigation efforts to slow climate change and minimize its impacts on natural resources.

“The prospect of losing so many [of] our beaches in Southern California to sea level rise is frankly unacceptable,” said John Ainsworth, executive director of the California Coastal Commission. “The beaches are our public parks and economic heart and soul of our coastal communities. We must do everything we can to ensure that as much of the iconic California coast is preserved for future generations.”


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