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New study highlights the grim future of Southern California's beaches: 'Should give us pause to reflect'

It's not just the beaches that are in danger.

It's not just the beaches that are in danger.

Photo Credit: iStock

The beaches of southern California are bucket list destinations for plenty of people. But those dreaming of the clear waters and golden sands might want to hasten their plans to make the trip. 

What's happening?

A study published in the Shore & Beach journal, summarized by Surfer, has mapped out the alarming future of California's shoreline. 

The "Sea level rise impacts on coastal access" provides data about which areas will be affected by coastal water rises of varying levels. A map even shows which beaches and coastal access points could soon be underwater. 

As Surfer pointed out, the study suggests that 100 coastal access points will be lost with every foot of sea-level rise. With state researchers predicting California will see two feet of sea level rise by 2100, this is certainly an alarming discovery.

But it's not just the beaches that are in danger. The ocean rising multiple feet will also put the low-lying airports in San Francisco and Oakland at risk, as well as the homes of around 200,000 people. 

"These results highlight that not only are California's beaches highly susceptible to rising sea levels, but our ability to visit and enjoy beaches is also at risk," study co-author Dan R. Reineman told Surfer. "Losing 100 beach access opportunities with every foot of sea level rise should give us pause to reflect on how we will manage our coastline now and going forward – how and for whom."

Why is this study concerning?

We've long known the impending risk of sea-level rises, caused by a warming climate that is melting polar ice caps at an alarming rate and the expansion of water under hotter temperatures. 

However, this study brings an alarming insight into just what damage could be caused and how homes and businesses could be affected in a matter of decades. 

This could lead to climate displacement, ocean pollution, coastal erosion, drinking water contamination, and habitat destruction.  

What's being done about rising ocean levels?

Cities like Venice in Italy, which has been contending with flooding risks for centuries, have been working on flood defense systems like floodgates placed on the sea floor. Meanwhile, architects in the Netherlands have been working on floating homes that could move with rising water. 

While these are helpful ways to stave off the risk rising water levels, they aren't complete solutions. For a state like California, more robust innovations are required.

This will be extremely expensive, however. For example, California ports heard a report in 2023 that sea-level defenses for San Francisco Bay could cost upwards of $110 billion, per the American Journal of Transportation.

More concerningly, Surfer warns that sea-level rise is inevitable. "Even completely eliminating carbon emissions today wouldn't prevent sea level rise in the coming decades," the publication's article read.

But the study in Shore & Beach journal does allow for coastal communities to prepare for these impending issues. Adaptation, as well as not ignoring the positive impacts that reducing planet-warming pollution can bring, is essential for the future. 

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