Sea Level Rise to Alter Economics of California Beaches

Sea Level Rise to Alter Economics of California Beaches

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, February 28, 2012

CONTACT: Erin McKenzie

(919) 613-3652

DURHAM, N.C. -- Rising sea levels are
likely to change Southern California beaches in the coming century, but not in
ways you might expect.

While some beaches may shrink or possibly
disappear, others are poised to remain relatively large—leaving an uneven
distribution of economic gains and losses for coastal beach towns, according to
a study by researchers at Duke University and five other institutions.

"Some beaches actually stand to
benefit economically from sea level rise, creating winners and losers among
California beach towns," said Linwood Pendleton, director of ocean and
coastal policy at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
"We found, as relatively small beaches shrink more due to sea level rise,
people will stop visiting them, opting for wider beaches."

The study "Estimating the Potential
Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Southern California Beaches," is
featured in a special edition of the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change.

Through the use of several models, the
authors simulated the effects of climate change on beach size, beach attendance
and beach-goer spending at 51 public beaches in Los Angeles and Orange
counties. The data were run for two scenarios: long-term losses in beach size
caused by a 1-meter rise in sea level over the next 100 years; or short-lived
beach erosion resulting from a year of severe winter storms and high tides
associated with sea level rise.

Slow and steady sea level rise will reduce
the width of all beaches in the two counties, the researchers found, causing
some visitors to drive farther to reach wider shores. Small beaches like Laguna
Beach would lose as much as $14 million yearly in beach-related expenditures
while larger beaches, like Huntington, would see an annual gain near $16
million annually.

In the second scenario, researchers
examined a year characterized by severe winter storms and higher tides
the El Niño winter of 1982-83. In
this year, faster-paced erosion occurred that deposited lost sand at other
beaches. The impact of a single, extremely stormy year on revenue created
upward and downward swings in beach revenue in the model, nearing $25 million
annually. Those benefiting as a result of the changes would be much different
than in the first scenario,
with Laguna
now the biggest winner under the stormy conditions.

The authors said that bringing in more sand through nourishment projects could
help offset the losses, but the costs would be great—roughly $436 million to keep pace with slow, steady sea level
rise and near $382 million to repair the effects of a single stormy year.

"While offsetting the
effects of long-term sea level rise through nourishment might make economic
sense, the costs of fixing the short-term impacts of more damaging winter
storms is much higher than any benefits that could be gained
," Pendleton said. "Faced with this scenario, most beach towns would be forced to wait for natural
processes to slowly replace the sand taken by big storms."

Though the models
indicated beach size had a significant influence on whether residents chose a
beach, the study found other amenities did too. Adding lifeguards, convenient
parking and improving water quality could help make up for some of the lost

"While the focus is
often on battling nature to protect sand, it may be far easier and cheaper for
beach towns to look to other amenities that are within their control,"
Pendleton added.

Pendleton is lead author of the study
funded by
the California Energy Commission’s PIER Program.
His co-authors include Phillip King, San Francisco State University; Craig
Mohn, Cascade Econometrics; D.G. Webster, Dartmouth College; Ryan Vaughn,
University of California, Los Angeles; and Peter N. Adams, University of

To read the article in Climatic Change, visit:

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