Coastal areas around the world are expanding in the face of projections that global warming-induced sea level rise will wipe out coastal cities.
But a recent study by the Dutch Deltares Research Institute found coastal areas had grown, on net, 13,000 square miles over the last 30 years. In total, the study found 67,000 square miles of water was converted into land, and 44,000 square miles of land was covered by water.
“We expected that the coast would start to retreat due to sea level rise, but the most surprising thing is that the coasts are growing all over the world,” Fedor Baart, the study’s lead author, told BBC News. “We’re were able to create more land than sea level rise was taking.”
Baart noted the expansion of coastlines around the world has thwarted sea level rise that scientists predict will get worse due to man-made global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts sea levels could rise as high as 16 millimeters a year by 2100.
Baart specifically pointed to Dubai, where the coast, “had been significantly extended, with the creation of new islands to house luxury resorts,” according to BBC, and to China where the, “whole coast from the Yellow Sea all the way down to Hong Kong” had been expanded.
The study also found irrigation completely dried up the Aral Sea, and that glacial melting created new lakes on the Tibetan Plateau. It looked at other areas of the world, like the Amazon, where natural and artificial works changed bodies of water.
“We knew in Myanmar that several dams were being built, but we were able to see how many,” Baart said. “And we also looked at North Korea, and we found dams being built there just north of the border from South Korea.”
Baart’s study comes after years of being warned that coastal cities and small islands would be overtaken by rising seas. But this research shows that’s not necessarily the case.
Pacific Islands have been more resilient to global warming than scientists predicted. Some have even grown in size.
Scientists from Australia and New Zealand found in 2015 that despite the Funafuti Atoll seeing “some of the highest rates of sea-level rise… over the past 60 [years]” the island chain has actually enlarged.
“Despite the magnitude of this rise, no islands have been lost, the majority have enlarged, and there has been a 7.3% increase in net island area over the past century (A.D. 1897–2013),” according to the study published in the journal Geology. “There is no evidence of heightened erosion over the past half-century as sea-level rise accelerated.”
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