Half of the world's sandy beaches could disappear by the end of the century if climate change continues unchecked, scientists warn.
Researchers from the European Union's Joint Research Center in Italy made the claim in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.
They used satellite images to track the way beaches have changed over the past 30 years. This allowed them to simulate how global warming may affect the future.
“What we find is that by the end of the century around half of the beaches in the world will experience erosion that is more than 100 metres," explains Michalis Vousdoukas, one of the researchers. "It's likely that they will be lost.”
The study shows the extent of beaches' disappearance will depend on how much average global temperatures increase by the year 2100.
If temperatures keep on increasing, so will sea levels and violent storms in some regions. This could cause more beaches to vanish beneath the waves.
Outlook dire for Jersey
Some countries will be more affected than others, researchers said.
Gambia and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa could lose more than 60% of their beaches, while predictions for Iraq, Pakistan, the island of Jersey in the English Channel and the Pacific island of Palau are similarly dire.
In terms of total beach coastline lost, Australia is likely to be hardest-hit, with over 12,000 kilometres at risk.
According to the study, the United States, Canada, Mexico, China, Iran, Argentina and Chile would also lose thousands of kilometres of beach.
Two different warming scenarios
The authors have considered two warming scenarios. In the first one, average global temperatures rise by 2.4℃ by the end of the century. The other predicts an increase twice as high.
They calculated that up to 40% of shoreline retreat could be prevented by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet, the large and growing populations living along the coast would also need to be protected through other measures in both cases.