A 2020 study on coastal erosion had a shocking conclusion. In the lifespan of the children born today, the U.S. coast will lose about half of its sandy beaches. In just 80 years, we will see the country’s shoreline become dramatically different.
Coastal erosion will result in fewer recreational shores and will impact the coastal communities where tourism drives the economy. Flooding and property damage will be inevitable as wide beaches and dunes can no longer protect homes.
Find out where coastal erosion will be the most extreme, what factors drive the worst erosion outcomes, and how communities will change because of erosion.
Where Is the Worst Coastal Erosion In the U.S.?
The Joint Research Center of the European Commission published a peer-reviewed study modeling how erosion will change our coastline. To simulate future coastline changes, the analysis used 35 years of satellite imagery, 82 years of climate data, and ran more than 100 million storm event simulations. Here are the results of their analysis.
The three worst places for coastal erosion are along the Gulf of Mexico. In part, this is because of the flatter topography of the Gulf shoreline. For example, the sand dunes on Florida’s Gulf coast average eight feet, but on the Atlantic coast of Florida, dunes average 15 feet, providing more protection.
Erosion of the Gulf Coast is also affected by what’s happening upstream. Because of changes to the Mississippi River including dams and river armoring, underwater sediment accumulation has decreased by 73 percent over the past 40 years. The lack of sediment deposits accelerates seafloor erosion, which in turn makes beaches more vulnerable to waves and storms.
What Does Coastal Erosion Look Like?
After a powerful two-day storm, one New Jersey coast lost about 70 percent of its dunes because of the pounding waves. The result is a cliff of sand along the high-tide line. The sea carried away gigantic swaths of sand, leaving behind the coastal homes perched above.
If so much change can happen after one storm, just think about how much change can happen over decades. For example, when the Cape Hatteras lighthouse was built on the Outer Banks in 1870, it was 1,500 feet from the ocean. By 1970, the surf was only 120 feet away.
What Factors Cause Shore Erosion?
At Groundworks, our work waterproofing homes has taught us that water is a powerful force. We’ve seen hydrostatic pressure crack concrete home foundations, and drainage issues cause landscape erosion or flooding in a home. If the water around your home can cause so much damage, just think about what the ocean can do.
One of the biggest factors of coastal erosion is waves. Water is powerful, and the repeated cycle of waves and tides can change the shape of the cost. On sandy beaches, this means the beach is washed away, and rocky cliffs can fracture or shear off because of the waves.
Researchers at MIT found that the amount of energy that waves deliver can predict the speed of erosion. Large and frequent waves will erode a beach faster than small and infrequent waves. The impact of waves is also amplified during storm events such as hurricanes where tides are higher and waves are more ferocious.
The shape of the landmass and seafloor also impacts how waves break and the amount of force in the waves. For example, underwater sandbars that are never seen could be refracting the force of waves before they reach the shore and controlling how much sediment is carried away.
Coastal erosion is also affected by climate change. The rising ocean levels are accelerating how much of the coastline is eroded away, and the increase in storm severity is causing erosion to happen at a quicker pace.
Human activity also affects erosion rates. For example, dams and river modifications can reduce the amount of sediment that migrates from waterways, starving the coastline of new deposits. Shipping channels along the coast that are deepened for water vessels can also increase erosion on nearby beaches. Conversely, human intervention can slow down erosion through jetties and other shoreline modifications.
What Are the Results of Shore Erosion?
One of the biggest effects of coastal erosion is property damage. As the ocean creeps closer, homes are more likely to flood, be damaged by storms, or be destroyed. It’s not just oceanfront homes that are impacted. Changes along the coast can cause flooding throughout a community and even along inland rivers and streams. The extent of property damage can be severe. Even one inch of flooding in a home can lead to $25,000 in damage.
Erosion can also change the local economy. In many coastal communities, industry and recreation can be focused on the ocean. Erosion could decimate the pleasant beaches that drive tourism and recreation. It could also disrupt fishing, ports, or offshore refineries.
Eroding beaches will also impact wildlife species and habitats. Dunes and shorelines are an important part of the coastal ecosystem, and habitats are lost when these areas are washed away.
Real estate values are also impacted by erosion. Buying a home is a long-term investment, and the risk of flooding can lead to market fluctuations.
When protecting your home against the threat of the sea, the best approach is to address three areas of concern. First, assess the changing shoreline and how it can affect your home. Also, speak with an insurance agent about the best way to protect your investment. And importantly, work with waterproofing and foundation experts who can help you secure your structure.
Schedule a free inspection from the country’s leading basement waterproofing and foundation repair experts to learn how you can protect your home from water damage.