New Study Finds Coastal Erosion Threatening Homes and Infrastructure

Uncategorized By Mar 26, 2023

Coastal erosion is threatening homes and infrastructure, with a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change quantifying the risks of erosion for residential and commercial properties in the US. Using imagery data and probabilistic modelling, the study assessed the influence of proximity to shoreline, land slope, elevated levels and their proximity to flood zones on 20,000 coastal properties. It found 70% of the properties were exposed to erosion hazards and flooding, with costs of potential damages and losses estimated at $135bn. The study recommended policies including encouraging property owners to relocate or retreat from high risk areas.

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New Study Finds Coastal Erosion Threatening Homes and Infrastructure

Coastal erosion is a natural process that shapes and reshapes coastlines over time, but it can also pose a significant threat to human settlements and infrastructure. A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change has quantified the current and future risks of coastal erosion for residential and commercial properties in the United States, and the results are sobering.

The study used a combination of aerial imagery, satellite data, and probabilistic modeling to analyze the exposure of 20,000 coastal properties to erosion hazards and flooding. The properties were located in ten states along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, from Maine to Texas, and ranged from small cottages to multimillion-dollar mansions, from low-density villages to high-rise cities.

The study found that about 14,000 of the properties, or 70%, were already exposed to some degree of erosion hazard and flooding, which could cause damage or loss within the next 30 years. This exposure was driven by several factors, including the proximity to the shoreline, the elevation above the water level, the slope of the land, and the erosion rate of the coast.

The study also projected that, under different scenarios of sea level rise and storm frequency, the number of properties at risk could increase dramatically by mid-century. For example, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and no retreat strategies are adopted, the exposure could reach 87% of the properties, or over 17,000, by 2050. The projected costs of the potential damages and losses could exceed $135 billion for the same period, not counting the social and psychological impacts on the affected communities.

The study has important implications for policymakers, planners, insurers, and residents who are facing the challenge of mitigating and adapting to coastal hazards. The authors recommend a range of strategies, including:

– Encouraging or mandating property owners to relocate or retreat from high-risk areas, such as barrier islands, dunes, and wetlands.
– Enhancing the natural defenses of the coast, such as planting sea grasses and mangroves, which stabilize the soil and absorb storm surges.
– Installing hard infrastructure, such as sea walls and revetments, which can reduce erosion but also create negative impacts on the beach ecology and aesthetics.
– Providing financial incentives, such as tax breaks and subsidies, for homeowners and businesses to retrofit their properties with resilient features, such as elevating foundations, reinforced roofs, and backup power systems.
– Improving the coordination and communication among different stakeholders, such as local and state agencies, federal agencies, and private organizations, to share data, identify priorities, and avoid conflicts.

However, the implementation of these strategies faces many challenges, such as legal and financial barriers, political resistance, and social conflicts. Moreover, some of the strategies may have unintended consequences, such as exacerbating inequalities, disrupting ecosystems, and creating moral hazards.


Q: What is coastal erosion?
A: Coastal erosion is the gradual or rapid loss of land or beaches due to the action of waves, currents, and tides. It can be caused by natural factors such as storms, sea level changes, and geological processes, or by human activities such as coastal development, mining, and sand mining.

Q: Why is coastal erosion a problem?
A: Coastal erosion can pose a serious threat to human settlements and infrastructure, by causing soil instability, shoreline retreat, flooding, and property damage or loss. It can also lead to environmental damage, such as habitat loss, beach erosion, and sedimentation in the ocean.

Q: How is coastal erosion related to climate change?
A: Coastal erosion is exacerbated by climate change, which is causing sea levels to rise, storms to become more frequent and intense, and ocean temperatures to increase. These changes can accelerate the erosion rate and increase the exposure of coastal properties to hazards.

Q: What can individuals do to reduce their risk of coastal erosion?
A: Individuals can take several measures to reduce their risk of coastal erosion, such as:

– Choosing a location that is not in a high-risk area or that has been evaluated by experts.
– Building or retrofitting their properties with resilient features, such as elevating foundations, installing storm shutters, and securing loose objects.
– Creating or participating in community-based organizations or initiatives to share information and resources, and to advocate for policies that protect the coast.

Q: What can governments and organizations do to address coastal erosion?
A: Governments and organizations can take various actions to address coastal erosion, such as:

– Conducting risk assessments and mapping to identify high-risk areas and properties.
– Adopting and enforcing regulations and standards for coastal development, including setback requirements and building codes.
– Providing funding and incentives for research, monitoring, and adaptation strategies.
– Coordinating with other stakeholders to develop integrated and equitable strategies that balance environmental, social, and economic interests.
– Educating and engaging the public about the risks and opportunities of coastal erosion and climate change.