One of the most certain consequences of global warming is an increase of global (eustatic) sea level. The resulting inundation from rising seas will heavily impact low-lying areas; at least 100 million persons live within one meter of mean sea level and are at increased risk in the coming decades. The very existence of some island states and deltaic coasts is threatened by sea level rise. An additional threat affecting some of the most heavily developed and economically valuable real estate will come from an exacerbation of sandy beach erosion. As the beach is lost, fixed structures nearby are increasingly exposed to the direct impact of storm waves, and will ultimately be damaged or destroyed unless expensive protective measures are taken. It has long been speculated that the underlying rate of long-term sandy beach erosion is two orders of magnitude greater than the rate of rise of sea level, so that any significant increase of sea level has dire consequences for coastal inhabitants. We present in this paper an analytical treatment that indicates there is a highly multiplicative association between long-term sandy beach erosion and sea level rise, and use a large and consistent data base of shoreline position field data to show that there is reasonable quantitative agreement with observations of 19th and 20th century sea levels and coastal erosion. This result means that the already-severe coastal erosion problems witnessed in the 20th century will be exacerbated in the 21st century under plausible global warming scenarios.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Allison, H. and Schwartz, M. L.: 1981, 'The Bruun Rule-The relationship of Sea-Level Change to Coastal Erosion and Deposition', Proceedings Royal Society Victoria 93, 87–97.
Bird, E. C. F.: 1985, Coastline Changes, Wiley &; Sons, New York, 219 pp.
Bruun, P.: 1954, 'Coast Erosion and the Development of Beach Profiles', U.S. Army Beach Erosion Board Technical Memorandum 44, U.S. Army Engineering Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 79 pp.
Bruun, P.: 1962, 'Sea-Level Rise as a Cause of Shore Erosion', Journal Waterways and Harbors Division, 88, 117–130.
Bruun, P.: 1983, 'Review of Conditions for Uses of the Bruun Rule of Erosion', Coastal Engineering 7, 77–89.
Crowell, M., Douglas, B. C., and Leatherman, S. P.: 1997, 'On Forecasting Future U.S. Shoreline Positions', J. Coastal Research 13, 1245–1255.
Crowell, M., Leatherman, S. P., and Buckley, M. K.: 1991, 'Historical Shoreline Change: Error Analysis and Mapping Accuracy', J. Coastal Research 7, 839–852.
Dean, R. G.: 1990, 'Beach Response to Sea Level Change', in Le Mehaute, B. and Hanes, D. M. (eds.), Ocean Engineering Science, v. 9 of The Sea. Wiley Inc., New York, pp. 869–887.
Dean, R. G. and Maurmeyer: 1983, 'Models for Beach Profile Response', in Komar, P. D. (ed.), Handbook of Coastal Processes and Erosion, C.R.C. Press, Boca Raton, Florida, pp. 151–165.
Douglas, B. C. and Crowell, M.: 2000, 'Long-Term Shoreline Position Prediction and Error Propagation', J. Coastal Research 16, 145–152.
Fisher, J. J.: 1967, 'Origin of Barrier Island Chain Shorelines: Middle Atlantic States', Geological Society of America Special Report, 115, 66–67.
Galgano, F. A.: 1998, Geomorphic Analysis of Modes of Shoreline Behavior and the Influence of Tidal Inlets on Coastal Configuration, U.S. East Coast, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Maryland, College Park, 464 pp.
Galgano, F. A., Douglas, B. C., and Leatherman, S. P.: 1998, 'Trends and Variability of Shoreline Position', J. Coastal Research No. 26 (Special Issue), 282–291.
Galgano, F. A., Leatherman, S. P., and Douglas, B. C.: 2004, 'Inlets Dominate U.S. East Coast Shoreline Change', J. Coastal Research, in press.
Galvin, C.: 1983, 'Sea Level Rise and Shoreline Recession', Coastal Zone 83, pp. 2684–2705.
Hands, E. B.: 1980, 'Prediction of Shore Retreat and Nearshore Profile Adjustments to Rising Water Levels on the Great Lakes', Technical Memorandum No. 80-7, Coastal Research Engineering Center, 119 pp.
Hands, E. B.: 1983, 'The Great Lakes as a Test Model for Profile Responses to Sea Level Changes', in Komar, P. D. (ed.), Handbook of Coastal Processes and Erosion, C.R.C. Press, Boca Raton, Florida, pp. 176–189.
Kimball, S. M. and Wright, L. D.: 1989, 'Sediment Transport Processes at Sandbridge, VA', in Stauble, S. K. (ed.), Barrier Islands: Process and Management, American Society of Civil Engineers, New York, pp. 106–121.
Kraft: 1971, 'Sedimentary Facies Patterns and Geologic History of Holocene Marine Transgression', Geological Society of America Bulletin 82, 2131–2158.
Leatherman, S. P.: 1983, 'Shoreline Mapping: A Comparison Techniques', Shore and Beach 51, 28–33.
Leatherman, S. P.: 1991, 'Modeling Shore Response to Sea-Level Rise on Sedimentary Coasts', Prog. Phys. Geog. 14, 447–464.
Leatherman, S. P.: 1993, Sea Level Atlas for U.S. Coasts, Laboratory for Coastal Research, Research Report, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, 26 pp.
Leatherman, S. P. and Clow, B.: 1983, 'UMD Shoreline Mapping Project', IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society Newsletter 22, 5–8.
Leatherman, S. P., Zhang, K., and Douglas, B. C.: 2000a, 'Sea Level Rise Shown to Drive Coastal Erosion', EOS Transactions 81 (6), 55–57.
Leatherman, S. P., Zhang, K., and Douglas, B. C.: 2000b, 'Sea Level Rise Shown to Drive Coastal Erosion: A Reply', EOS Transactions, 81 (38), 437–441.
May, S. K., Dolan, R., and Hayden, B. P.: 1983, 'Erosion of U.S. Shorelines', EOS Transactions 64, 551–553.
Mimura, N. and Nobuoka, H.: 1995, 'Verification of Bruun Rule for the Estimate of Shoreline Retreat Caused by Sea-Level Rise', in Dally, W. R. and Zeidler, R. B. (eds.), Coastal Dynamics 95, American Society of Civil Engineers, New York, pp. 607–616.
Moore, L. J., Benumof, B. T., and Griggs, G. B.: 1999, 'Coastal Erosion Hazards in Santa Cruz and San Diego Counties, California', J. Coastal Research No. 28 (Special Issue), 121–139.
Morton, R. A. and McKenna, K. K.: 1999, 'Analysis and Projection of Erosion Hazard Areas in Brazoria and Galveston Counties, Texas', J. Coastal Research No. 28 (Special Issue), 106–120.
Morton, R. A., Paine, J. G., and Gibeaut, J. G.: 1994, 'Stages and Durations of Post-Storm Beach Recovery, Southeastern Texas Coast, U.S.A.', J. Coastal Research 10, 884–908.
Nicholls, R. J., Leatherman, S. P., Dennis, K. C., and Volonte, C. R.: 1995, 'Impacts and Response to Sea-Level Rise: Qualitative and Quantitative Assessments', J. Coastal Research No. 21 (Special Issue), 26–43.
Peltier, W. R.: 2001, 'Global Glacial Isostatic Adjustment and Modern Instrumental Records of Relative Sea Level History', in Douglas, B. C., Kearney, M. S., and Leatherman, S. P. (eds.), Sea Level Rise: History and Consequences, Academic Press, San Diego, pp. 65–95.
Pilkey, O. H. and Davis, T. W.: 1987, 'An Analysis of Coastal Recession Models: North Carolina Coast', in Nummedal, D., Pilkey, O. H., and Howard, J. (eds.), Sea-level Fluctuations and Coastal Evolution, Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists Special Publication No. 41, pp. 59–68.
Pilkey, O. H., Young, R. S., and Bush, D. M.: 2000, 'Comment on Sea Level Rise Shown to Drive Coastal Erosion', EOS Transactions 81 (38), 437–441.
Rosen, P. S.: 1978, 'A Regional Test of the Bruun Rule on Shoreline Erosion', Marine Geol. 26, M7–M16.
Schwab, W. C., Thieler, E. R., Allen, J. R., Foster, D. S., Swift, B. A., and Denny, J. F.: 2000, 'Influence of Inner-Continental Shelf Geologic Framework on the Evolution and Behavior of the Barrier-Island System between Fire Island Inlet and Shinnecock Inlet, Long Island, New York', J. Coastal Research 16, 408–422.
Schwartz, M. L.: 1965, 'Laboratory Study of Sea-Level as a Cause of Shore Erosion', J. Geology 73, 528–534.
Schwartz, M. L.: 1967, 'The Bruun Theory of Sea-Level Rise as a Cause of Shore Erosion', J. Geology 75, 76–92.
SCOR: 1991, 'The Response of Beaches to Sea-Level Changes: A Review of Predictive Models', J. Coastal Research 7, 895–921.
Stauble, D. K.: 1989, 'Barrier Islands-Dynamic Coastal Landforms Requiring Complex Management Decisions, A Symposium Introduction and Overview', in Stauble, D. K. and Magoon, O. T. (eds.), Barrier Islands: Process and Management, American Society of Civil Engineers, New York, pp. 63–77.
Thom, B. G. and Hall, W.: 1991, 'Behavior of Beach Profiles during Accretion and Erosion Dominated Periods', Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 16, 113–127.
WASA Group: 1998, 'Changing Waves and Storms in the Northeast Atlantic', Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc. 79, 741–761.
Zhang, K.: 1998, Twentieth Century Storm Activity and Sea Level Rise Along the U.S. East Coast and their Impact on Shoreline Position, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, 266 pp.
Zhang, K., Douglas, B. C., and Leatherman, S. P.: 1997, 'U.S. East Coast Storm Surges Provide Unique Climate Record', EOS Transactions 78 (37), 389, 396-397.
Zhang, K., Douglas, B. C., and Leatherman, S. P.: 2000, 'Twentieth Century Storm Activity along the U.S. East Coast', J. Climate 13, 1748–1761.
Zhang, K., Douglas, B. C., and Leatherman, S. P.: 2001, 'Beach Erosion Potential for Severe Nor'easters', J. Coastal Research 17, 309–321.
Zhang, K., Douglas, B. C., and Leatherman, S. P.: 2002, 'Do Storms Cause Long-Term Beach Erosion along the U.S. East Barrier Coast?', J. Geology 110, 493–502.
About this article
Cite this article
Zhang, K., Douglas, B.C. & Leatherman, S.P. Global Warming and Coastal Erosion. Climatic Change 64, 41 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:CLIM.0000024690.32682.48
- Coastal Erosion
- Barrier Island
- Shoreline Change
- Coastal Research
- Glacial Isostatic Adjustment