Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Bringing sand to the beach

NASA’s Landsat satellite system has been used to gain accurate readings on the world’s sandy coastlines NASA’s Landsat satellite system has been used to gain accurate readings on the world’s sandy coastlines NASA Landsat
27 Aug
2018
The world’s first full global analysis of beaches reveals the state of each continent’s coastlines

Whether for essential access to the sea for fishing and transportation, protecting inland infrastructure from destructive oceanic storms, mining aggregate for concrete, or simply for recreation, beaches have multiple functions. But attempting to put an accurate number on what proportion of world’s coasts are composed of beaches has always been an immensely laborious and time-consuming process – let alone trying to calculate how this number may be changing through the years through erosion and accretion (the accumulation of material).

A two-month study utilising NASA’s Landsat satellites has for the first time made it possible to quantify the world’s beaches. The captured images were analysed by experts at Deltares, an independent research institute studying deltas, river basins and coasts, based in the Netherlands, whose software was taught to distinguish between sandy and/or grainy beaches, and alternative rocky shorelines. The results reveal that just shy of one-third of all ice-free shorelines are composed of beaches, with significant continental differences; two-thirds of African coasts are made up of beaches, in Europe this falls to a mere 22 per cent.

By comparing satellite imagery taken between 1984 and 2016, the results also reveal that 24 per cent of sandy beaches around the world are eroding (at a rate larger than 0.5m per year) and 27 per cent are growing, while the rest are stable. This means that, overall, the world’s beaches have slightly grown over the past three decades, although the trends reverse when it comes to beaches in marine protected areas, where 37 per cent of beaches are eroding, but only 32 per cent are accreting.

Australia and Africa are also both experiencing more erosion than growth, while Asia has experienced the largest accretion, partially due to human-led developments and land reclamations in countries such as China, Singapore, Bahrain and the UAE. ‘At this point we think the continental differences in beach erosion and accretion are largely influenced by human interventions along the coast,’ explains Arjen Luijendijk, a coastal development expert at Deltares. ‘Our next step will focus on distinguishing the human impact from the natural dynamics and trends.’

This was published in the September 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

Whatever your subject, looking through a macro lens provides an…

Geophoto

German physicist, biologist and photographer, Andreas Kay was based in…

Geophoto

Prestigious photography competition returns for a third year

Wildlife

 New evidence reveals just how persistent some neonicotinoids are in…

Oceans

Scientists are using underwater loudspeakers to attract fish species back…

Climate

For years, China was the go-to destination for exporting the…

Geophoto

Capturing the perfect shot sometimes means not having the camera…

Energy

New research reveals that the UK needs to act fast…

Wildlife

As Arctic ice diminishes, new pathways are opening up, with…

Climate

As a new decade begins, Marco Magrini wonders if the…

Geophoto

When it comes to shooting a moving subject, most photographers…

Energy

The melting of glaciers over the next 100 years will…

Climate

Large-scale air travel is under public scrutiny, and refusing to…

Climate

For years, China was the go-to destination for exporting the…

Climate

Across the EU, emissions from aviation are increasing and passenger…

Climate

As polluting rich nations court global catastrophe at UN climate…

Climate

Alarmingly, nothing unexpected happened in Madrid

Oceans

The January issue’s dramatic cover image was designed to highlight…

Climate

Protestors from the global south were physically removed yesterday from…

Climate

Climate NGOs point fingers at nations holding back climate crisis…