EDITOR’S COMMENT: another day, another fakes news report written to cause alarm! When are people going to wake up and realise that we are being lied to?
Sandy beaches are much less vulnerable to rising seas than was claimed in a recent European Commission study which caused “unnecessary alarm”, research has found.
Beaches will survive by migrating landwards as the sea level rises as long as they are given space to move and not impeded by sea walls and other structures on the coast, the research shows.
The new findings contradict claims made in March in a study by the commission’s joint research centre, which supplies scientific evidence to guide EU policy.
The study was publicised with a press release headlined “Climate Change: Life’s a (disappearing) beach”.
It claimed that half of the world’s beaches could disappear by the end of the century under current trends in climate change and sea levels rise.
The study also suggested that rising seas could wipe out almost 1,000 miles of sandy beaches in the UK by 2100.
But scientists from 12 universities around the world, including Ulster University and the University of Plymouth, re-examined the data and methodology that underpinned the study and found it was based on flawed computer models and an “arbitrary and unjustified” assumption about the fate of beaches as shorelines moved.
They have published a strongly worded rebuttal to the study in the same journal, Nature Climate Change, in which it appeared. They say its conclusions are not just wrong but could result in “economically and environmentally disastrous” solutions being implemented.
“Incorrect model outputs may unnecessarily cause alarm, as has been the case with this paper, and could prompt inappropriate policy responses,” they write.
The new paper says that beaches backed by hard cliffs and seawalls are indeed likely to disappear in the future due to sea level rising because they cannot migrate landward.
However, beaches backed by low-lying coastal plains, shallow lagoons, salt marshes and dunes, such as Slapton Sands in Devon, have space to move and will survive, albeit raised in elevation and located landward.
Andrew Cooper, professor of coastal studies at Ulster University and the new paper’s lead author, said: “We were quite shocked when we read [the study]. It was clearly dressed up to be headline-grabbing but it wasn’t all that it seemed.”
He said the study used a discredited theory dating from the Sixties that sediment on coasts was pulled offshore as the sea level rose. Sediment was actually pushed onshore on most beaches, he said.
Professor Cooper said to save many beaches, including on long stretches of England’s east coast, it would be necessary to move or demolish sea defences, homes and other structures. This would give the beaches room to retreat, he added.
The new paper also criticises the study for suggesting that beaches could be built back up using Dutch technology to pump sand ashore.
“The necessary expertise, economy, and nearshore sand supplies exist in few locations outside the Netherlands,” it says.
“Locking other nations into large-scale efforts to hold the shoreline would be economically and environmentally disastrous.”
The scientists also dismiss the study’s claim that Australia would be the worst affected country, with more than 7,000 miles of beaches at risk.
“In reality, Australia has a low risk of beach loss because the overwhelming majority of the coastline is undeveloped, allowing for unimpeded beach migration,” the new paper says.
It concludes: “As sea level rises, shoreline retreat must, and will, happen. Beaches, however, will survive. The biggest threat to the continued existence of beaches is coastal defence structures that limit their ability to migrate.”