A NEW study claims that 66% of Balearic beaches could be lost to the sea by the end of the century in a worst case climate change scenario.
Researchers at the Balearic Islands Oceanographic Centre have developed a model to observe sea level changes under current climate change projections.
It is the first study to show the impact specifically on popular tourist sites in the Balearics.
One of the study’s authors, Miguel Agulles, said: “We show that climate change will lead to the permanent loss of more than 50% of the beach area, increasing to more than 80% during stormy conditions.”
The predictions are based on a worst-case climate change scenario, but efforts to reduce carbon emissions could see significantly lower sea level rises, the research team said.
However, it is not just sea levels that will affect beaches. Flood levels depend on tides and waves, and are a more important indicator of the future shape of beaches then simply sea levels, explained the team.
They came up with a new model that considered the shape and slope of each beach, how grainy the sand is and the extent of seagrass meadows to predict coastal flooding.
They applied their new model to 869 beaches in the Balearic Islands and analysed what is most likely to happen in the coming decades. In the most pessimistic climate change scenario, 66% of current beaches will be flooded and lost to the sea by the end of this century. This is under average conditions, but under the most extreme conditions it will increase to an 86% loss of beaches during a storm.
In total, 72 of the islands’ 869 beaches would disappear permanently, while 314 would be completely flooded during storm events. In a moderate emissions scenario, considered the most likely under current climate change scenarios, 37 beaches would disappear permanently while 254 would disappear only during storm events.
In both cases, the average permanent loss of beach area by the end of the century would still be more than 50% and could be as high as 80%.
Study co-author Gabriel Jordà said the results show that climate change is a serious threat to tourism on the islands and that beaches will be seriously affected.
“These projections indicate that adaptation plans for beach areas should be put in place as soon as possible,” he said.