Rising sea, stronger storms hammering West Coast shorelines

Jul 20, 2011

With summer in full swing, area beaches see a lot of action. But the shores of the western coast of the United States may be hit with large-scale erosion in coming years, wiping out coastlines that provide protection from the surf, as well as pleasure.

That’s according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey. Scientists from San Diego to Seattle shared data from the 2009 – 2010 winter during which powerful waves and higher-than-usual water levels tore away and reshaped shorelines.

In western Washington, near Willapa Bay, more than 300 feet of erosion destroyed a road that winter.

Unprecedented

Patrick Barnard with the USGS says in many cases, these erosion levels were unprecedented and what’s more the problem is not going away.

“Sea level is rising and also, in parallel to that, larger and more frequent storms – that combined with the higher sea levels – is likely to result in a series of winters that are going to have quite extreme erosion.”

In Washington State in particular wave heights have increased dramatically over the last few decades. 

This trend combined with warmer winters mean beaches and bluffs will be stripped away, and damage to homes and sewers can be expected. Scientists say this study is unique because it covers a large area – more than 140 miles of shoreline.

On the Web:

Video of Washaway Beach area