Coastal erosion takes place when beach sediments are decreasing, following the retreat of the coast and the reduction of the total coastal zone (N Evelpidou, 2020; UNISDR, 2017). Based on the sediment budget theory, coastal erosion can occur when the quantity of incoming sediment is less than the quantity of sediment lost in a certain coastal cell (Kamphuis, 2010). The most important reason why this phenomenon is accelerating is because of the global warming, which increases the global (eustatic) sea level, causing rising seas and wave action, tides and currents to interfere with the coastal environment (Ariffin et al., 2019; Fan et al., 2019; Hinkel & Nicholls, 2010; King, Conley, Masselink, Leonardi, & Mccarroll, 2019; Saengsupavanich, 2020; SELAMAT, 2019; Zhang, Douglas, & Leatherman, 2004). Storm and tide surges, wave setup and Sea Level Rise (SLR) are assessed to be responsible for future flooding in coastal areas by 2100, with percentages of 63%, 5% and 32% respectively (Louisor et al., 2022). Extreme sea level (ESL) events associated with disastrous flooding will become common by 2100 under all emission scenarios (Oppenheimer & Glavovic, 2019), while Mean Sea Level (MSL) rise will be the primary driver of upcoming extreme changes in sea levels and coastal flood risk (Cannaby et al., 2016; Howard, Palmer, & Bricheno, 2019; Vousdoukas et al., 2018).
Increasing storms and SLR tend to cause in the future chronic flooding in inland areas, bringing major changes to these ecosystems (Luisa Martínez, Mendoza-González, Silva-Casarín, & Mendoza-Baldwin, 2014; Mo, Kearney, & Turner, 2020; Timmerman, Haasnoot, Middelkoop, Bouma, & McEvoy, 2021). The threats created by coastal erosion are of high relevance, as more than 100 million people live within one meter of the mean sea level, meaning that in the coming decades they will have to face real estate, migration, economic, social and environmental issues (Zhang et al., 2004). Coastal nations and low-lying coasts are the most vulnerable recipients to coastal erosion risk, while in general social-ecological systems and associated communities, low-lying coastal cities, islands, deltas, and the Arctic in particular will experience major threats (Oppenheimer & Glavovic, 2019). But in general, the coastal communities that need protection are Shanghai, Lagos, New York City, cities, towns and villages from the Arctic to southeast Asia, southern Africa, Central and South America, Europe, and Australasia, and coastal communities on islands from the Caribbean to the Pacific, Africa, India and south China Sea (C, 2021).
It’s necessary to understand that erosion becomes a hazard when society doesn’t adapt to its consequences on people. As an example, many human settlements are set on areas prone to coastal erosion, while at the same time it is estimated that around 70% of the global coasts are eroding (Bird, 1985; UNISDR, 2017). In the highly populated mega-deltas of Asia, the regulation of the rivers, alongside the rest of the negative natural and human contributions that are also mentioned above, cause a significant coastal sediment reduction and threat to hundreds of millions of people (UNISDR, 2017).
The observed coastal erosion through the last decades till today, reveal 2 types, the rapid case of tsunamis and storm surges and the slow one of SLR (UNISDR, 2017). For example, Australia is experiencing a large number of damaging storms, with a peak, the 1974 sequence (Callaghan, 2008). India and Thailand on the other hand are suffering from tsunamis, like the one of 2004 (Provinces et al., 2007; Thom, 2021). In Happisburgh (United Kingdom), countries of the Pacific and the coastline of Tongatapu (Tonga) SLR has already started filling and eroding the coastal zones (UNISDR, 2017). The significance of the upcoming economic consequences of coastal erosion have already been examined. In British rivers and coasts it is estimated that around $236 billion worth of assets are at risk from flooding and erosion, while in the following years, till 2100, this number is likely to increase, due to changes in society and climate (Thorne, Evans, & Penning-rowsell, 2007). In Australia, in 2008 it was calculated that $28-43 billion worth of residential buildings would be at risk with a 1.1 m SLR, meaning that around 157,000-247,000 settlements are being threatened (Unit & Division, 2013). In the Changjiang delta, the area where Shanghai is located, coastal erosion has been observed, due to cultivation and hill farming alongside the Changjiang River, causing land shortage, which means no space for further industrial and urban development in the biggest and most advanced socio-economically city of China (Chen & Zong, 1998; Higgitt & Lu, 1996; Lu & Higgitt, 1998).
In the U.S. it’s estimated that the households prone to storm surges and coastal flooding were around 6.5 million in 2018, with a coastline length threatened by erosion at nearly 6,000 km (Botts, 2011; Hatzikyriakou & Lin, 2018). The significance of the vulnerability of many U.S. coastal communities was highlighted in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy destroyed over 650,000 structures and will continue to be visible as the effects of climate change and SLR are expected to impact many coasts and cause a critical concern (Blake et al., 2013; Botts, 2011; Lin, Kopp, Horton, & Donnelly, 2016). The New York metropolitan area is facing dangers too, as 2,400 km of shoreline will be dealing with erosion due to SLR in the coming years. A very upsetting prediction is that the return period of the 100-yr storm floods could be decreased to 19–68 years by the 2050s, and 4–60 years by the 2080s (Gornitz, Couch, & Hartig, 2002). Also, the southern coasts of Long Island have already seen the impacts, with most of the coastline being already eroded, but nothing like the salt marsh islands in Jamaica Bay, which a percentage of 50% of them being disappeared since 1900 (Gornitz et al., 2002; Leatherman S.P., 1985).
Some countries and islands have already started buying land from other nations, due to the threat of disappearing and submerging. The first one to act was the Maldives in 2009, that tried to purchase areas from India and Sri Lanka. In 2014, the same tactic followed the people of Kiribati, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, as President Anote Tong issued a purchase of 20 sq km on Vanua Levu, one of the Fiji Islands (Cauchi, Correa-Velez, & Bambrick, 2019).
The present work is an attempt to highlight the magnitude of the problem of coastal erosion and a case study is presented, as a typical example of a coastal zone, with high touristic development, in the center of the Aegean Sea (Greece) and with morphological and anthropogenic characteristics that make it particularly vulnerable to coastal erosion. Literature, empirical and field research’s data have been gathered, analyzed and interpreted to establish its vulnerability to different sea-level change scenarios according to the IPCC 2019 and its possible evolution based on anthropogenic pressures, while methods of natural self-protection of the coastal zone from coastal erosion and sea-level rise are discussed.
The coastal zone consists one of the central pillars for sustaining life on Earth, not only as an ecosystem where biodiversity flourish, but also as the most favored area for the development and necessities of human civilization (Hausmann, 2001). In addition to the high concentration of population in coastal areas, there is also high activity in sectors such as tourism, trade, and labor, leading to richer coastal economies when compared to the inland ones (Jouffray, Blasiak, Norström, Österblom, & Nyström, 2020; Sachs, Mellinger, & Gallup, 2001; Zacharias, 2014).
During the 20th century, coastal zones have seen real changes with the increasing population and urbanization of 1990. Back then, 23% of the world, around 1.2 billion people, lived within a 100 km distance and 100 m elevation of the coast at densities about three times higher than the global average (Small & Nicholls, 2003). According to (Nations., 2017; VIM-TEC, 2019), by the Co-Chairs of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism and the United Nations respectively, it’s estimated that globally the area within 100 km of the coastline is inhabited by about 40% of the global population (more than 2.4 billion people). But even coastal regions located less than 10 m above mean sea level are considered to host more than 600 million people (Around 10% of the global population) and 65% of the world’s largest and numerous smaller cities (Durand et al., 2022). Citizens of coastal communities used to be around 37% of the world in total in 2017, meaning that today this number is even exceeded (Nations., 2017). Coastal areas seem to cover only a small part of Earth’s total land and ocean area, 4% and 11% respectively, but the number of citizens they contain is more than 1/3 of the world and twice denser populated than inland areas (Barbier, 2012; Board, 2005; Milon & Alvarez, 1997). A similar pattern is seen in the U.S. too, as 40% of the total population of 2018 lived on the coast (NOAA, 2013). It’s interesting to notice that even in the country level, coastal population is of high importance, as nations with the majority of their citizens concentrated farther than 100 km from the sea show 0.6 % slower economic growth (Hausmann, 2001).
Any level of Sea Level Rise (SLR) will impact the coastal population, with the solution of displacement and migration as the most probable one (Hauer, Evans, & Mishra, 2016; Hauer et al., 2020; Nicholls et al., 2011). So, if there are no counteractions, we are expecting the relocation of up to 1 billion citizens, the number projected to be even surpassed regarding the coastal habitants till the end of the century (Neumann, Vafeidis, Zimmermann, & Nicholls, 2015).
In general, around 30-50% of the world’s tourism is taking place on the coastal zone (Ghosh, 2012), while in Small Island Development States, tourism accounts for over 25 per cent of Gross domestic producto (GDP) (Nations., 2017). As it’s mentioned in (UNWTO, 2020), worldwide, 1 out of 2 tourists visit the coastal areas for tourism, as well as the total economic contribution of tourism in 2019 was 10.3% of the global GDP, creating 1/10 jobs. Also, coastal tourism is the largest sector across the Blue Economy in the European Union, in terms of global value added and employment (Commission, 2021). Following (Blue, 2016), the coastal areas of the Mediterranean attract around 15% of the global tourism.
Ports are the center of maritime trade, accumulating large shares of the world economy, as in 2020 the total volume of goods loaded worldwide was 10.6 billion metric tons (UNCTAD, 2021). Trade between nations consists 90% of shipping, while the ocean-based economy comes up to $3 trillion each year, about 5% of world’s GDP (Nations., 2017). According to (NOAA, 2008), every year ships transport $1.5 trillion in and out of U.S. ports, supporting more than 13 million jobs. Across the Atlantic, it’s estimated that, in 2020, 1,7 billion tons of goods were transported to/from main EU ports (SSS), while in the same year 3,273,103 tones were handled in the main EU ports (DSS), regarding Short and Deep-Sea Shipping respectively.
Coastal and marine processes offer services to our society that are highly valuable (Agency, 2015; Barbier, 2012). By a research that was made in 1997 (Costanza et al., 1997), the coastal and marine ecosystems (CMEs)used to represent the 68% of the total value of biosphere’s ecosystem services, which was calculated to be $22.4 trillion, out of the maximum $54 trillion per year. This meant that the CMEs economy was even more important than the total global economy of the direct market, regarding its goods and services. An important fact that can highlight the importance of coastal zones, is that the total physical capital stock located in areas prone to coastal erosion was in 2006 calculated to be around $1.2 trillion, an amount so large, that could harm many coastal communities (Gopalakrishnan, Landry, Smith, & Whitehead, 2016). The number of jobs and production near the sea is extremely high, as for example worldwide 60 million people are employed in fishing and fish farming, which is the major source for food and income (Nations., 2017), and $164 billion are accumulated in exports (O, 2020). Fisheries and aquaculture contribute $100 billion per year and about 260 million jobs to the global economy, as well as coastal productivity supports 10-12% of the global population (Barua, Rahman, Barua, & Rahman, 2020). The annual coastal economy, regarding employment, ecosystem services provided by the ocean, and cultural services is estimated to be around $3-6 trillion/year (Nations., 2017). As for the U.S., the total stats of coastal economy, regarding all industries in 2021, consists of the establishments at 10,923,518, employment at 143,759,143, wages at $9,719,512,201,275, and the GDP at $22,996,086,000,000. Finally, it’s calculated that annually coastal US counties produce $9.5 trillion in goods and services, employ 58.3 million people, and pay 3.8 trillion in wages (NOAA, 2013).
It’s estimated that by 2041-2060, the population of low-elevation coastal areas will be more than 1000 million (Gómez-Villerías, 2022; IPCC, 2022). By the predictions introduced by Schwartz (Schwartz, 2005) and Vousdoukas (Vousdoukas, 2020), a 30 cm rise in the sea level would erode too many sandy beaches globally and could cause the disappearance of almost half of them by 2100 (Kettunen, Kirchholtes, Klok, Markandya, & Nunes, 2010) estimated that by 2050 $14 trillion worth of land-based services will be lost, which means that CMEs services will undergo a decrease of a similar magnitude. Blue Economy is expected to follow a growth at a faster rate than terrestrial activities for the next decades, about $3-5 trillion by 2030, according to OECD (OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), 2016). For example, across the Caribbean islands, with the CO2 emissions model of RCP 4.5, it’s predicted that around 53% of sandy beaches will be lost and tourism revenue will decrease 38% by 2100 (Spencer, Strobl, & Campbell, 2022).
The factors that can cause shoreline retreat are divided into 2 categories, the natural and the human-induced (GILLIE, 1997). The most commons of the second ones are considered to be sand mining from riverbeds and beaches, construction of coastal structures (such as jet- ties, groins, seawalls, and breakwaters), reclamation of shorefront lands, and human-induced land subsidence (Hsu, Lin, & Tseng, 2007). In addition, increased human modification reduces the “naturalness” of coastal environments, exposing them to uncertain changes and dangers (Dahm, 2000). But it should be noted that the one with the greatest impact is the global climate change, an anthropogenic phenomenon that tends to alter the natural processes that sustain beaches and coasts (Doney et al., 2012; Harley et al., 2006; He & Silliman, 2019; Poloczanska et al., n.d.; Prasad & Kumar, 2014).
The "coastal squeeze" of the global population during the last century into the urbanized coastal megacities (cities with population that exceeds 8 million) is happening right now, as in 1950 there were only 2, Ney York and London, while today the number has soared to 16, Tokyo, Mumbai, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Kolkata, Karachi, Manila, Osaka-Kobe, Jakarta, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, New York City, Los Angeles, Lagos and Istanbul (Pelling & Blackburn, 2014; Schlacher et al., 2007). So, hazards and vulnerability of coastal erosion in coastal megacities are products of the interplay between multiple forms of change (demographic, infrastructural, environmental, social, economic, etc.) (Blackburn, Pelling, & Marques, 2019).
The human systems that in general can interact with coastal erosion include the built environment (settlements, water, drainage, transportation infrastructure and networks), human activities (tourism, aquaculture, fisheries), and institutions that organize human activities (policies, laws, customs, norms, and culture) (Berkes and C. Folke, 1998). Basically, anything that humans do to change or impede the natural processes along the coast tends to have a negative impact on the coast. Throughout history, humans always interacted with the coast, at the past without awareness, till the present that even attempts to control erosion have resulted in worse effects (Davis, 2021).
Human constructions on the coast can cause amplified levels of erosion. For example, ports can alter the currents, waves, and water quality in a coastal area (Kudale, 2010; Tsinker, 2004), jetties expose the downdrift zone to erosion (Saengsupavanich, Yun, & Lee, 2022), seawalls and revetments can impact both harmful and positive depending on their position and the natural evolution of the beach (Weggel, 1988).
Another case is the decrease of fluvial supply by the creation of reservoirs for power production and irrigation purposes, the construction of river dams, the deepening of navigation channels, and the mining of river sand, as a side-effect of human interventions in the natural environment (Sharma, Vo, Meybeck, Green, & Syvitski, 2003). Breakwaters, dikes, walls, buttressing, etc., which have long been deployed to reinforce the coastline, not only disrupt sediment transportation behavior but also cause severe bottom abrasion and erosion. For that reason, researchers around the world (Nabi, De Vriend, Mosselman, Sloff, & Shimizu, 2013a, 2013b; Petropoulos, Evelpidou, Kapsimalis, Anagnostou, & Karkani, 2022; Petropoulos, Kapsimalis, Evelpidou, Karkani, & Giannikopoulou, 2022)develop numerical models in order to simulate the morphodynamic state of the coast. For example, the MIKE 21 Flow Model simulates the morphodynamic of an embayed beach with sediment transport and bed level changes due to currents or combined waves/currents, coupled with the HD, SW, ST, and Shoreline Morphology modules, considers the space and time period of the prevailing and extreme conditions of the phenomena of interest. Also, has the efficiency to study the wave transformation over different temporal and spatial scales; it also allows repeating running tests with different wave exposure forcing conditions along different values of parameters (Balas & Inan, 2002) in order to better understand the nearshore circulation. The numerical model estimates the coastal erosion processes and the natural variations in sand budgets and allows for an assessment of marine spatial planning and the study of the impact and effectiveness of shore interference works. The reliable key calibration parameters, such as sediment grading, grain diameter, manning, and bed thickness, were calculated and used in the MIKE 21 Coupled Model FM simulations (Petropoulos, Evelpidou, et al., 2022) in combination with bathymetry, sediment analysis, and substrate component data from the bay. The values of the main parameters used by the model were set based on the program manuals along with empirical validation through the repeated running of tests. The model was successfully applied and tested in a number of basic, idealized, realistic, and complicated situations from which the output results can be compared with analytical solutions or information from the literature (Bulhoes & Fernandez, 2011; Jose, Kobashi, & Stone, 2007)
Human intervention on waterways via dams, diversions, levees etc., accompanied by SLR and increased flooding, follows the loss of insane amounts of acres of estuary habitat every year. The coastal land loss due to the reduced supply of new sediment is the result that threatens on a social level entire communities and economically the local production and exchanges (Warrick et al., 2019).
Coastal Louisiana and the Mississippi River Delta is an example, as a football field’s worth of land disappears every hour (Ortiz, Roy, & Edmonds, 2017). This effect is caused by man-made constructions, mostly levees, on the area, that were built to protect from flooding the cities, the infrastructure, and other economic resources, but turned out to be harmful in other ways. Since the 1930s, more than 5,000 square kilometers of land have disappeared, which means that the region is at high risk, while it represents a powerful economic output with the oil and gas, trade, and fishery industries (Blum & Roberts, 2009; Olson & Suski, 2021; Ortiz et al., 2017). The Nile Delta has experienced issues with erosion from human grounds, as from 1909 to 1971 the rates of sediment discharge were estimated at 42 m/year, following the construction of the Low Aswan Dam, but finally it turned out that the problem was boosted by the creation of the High Aswan Dam, increasing the erosion at 129 m/year (Stanley & Warne, 1993).
It should be highlighted that beachrocks have also the potentiality to prevent coastal erosion, due to their ability to minimize the energy of the waves, acting like breakwaters (Khan & Kawasaki, 2015). As suggested by Danjo and Kawasaki (Danjo & Kawasaki, 2013), they can easily and eco-friendly (due to the dependence of local materials for the formation) be developed. In 2021 the first artificial beachrock was made in Greece (Polidorou, Saitis, & Evelpidou, 2021) and the public application of this protective technique is to be seen in the near future.
Coral reefs are fundamental ecosystems for the protection of coastal zones, as they prevent flood dangers through their hydrodynamics and morphological effects that break the waves approaching the beaches and reduce their energy (Escudero, Reguero, Mendoza, Secaira, & Silva, 2021; Monismith, Rogers, Koweek, & Dunbar, 2015; Storlazzi et al., 2019). The unfortunate fact is that coral reefs are being degraded while conservation and management activities remain largely inadequate (Luisa Martínez et al., 2014; Omori, 2011). For instance, in the Caribbean, around 50% of the hard coral cover on reefs has been destroyed in only 3 decades (TA, 2003).
Finally, fast ferries interact with the shorelines through the wake waves that they generate. Each one consists of a sequence of 10 low and long waves with a significant height below 1 m, which break as plunging breakers. The ways they can influence the coasts are by higher wave uprush than that produced by normal waves, by changing the coastal morphological processes in the area, eroding it and creating beach berms and by breaking unexpectedly and violently (Bilkovic & Davis, 2018; Zaggia et al., 2017).
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