El Nino Triggers Record-Breaking Erosion Throughout California Coastline

Posted: Feb 16 2017, 10:07am CST | by , Updated: Feb 16 2017, 10:15am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
El Nino Triggers Record-Breaking Erosion Throughout California Coastline
andy beach and cliffs at Moss Landing, California. Credit: Daniel Hoover, U.S. Geological Survey

California coastline erosion caused by 2016 El Nino was the wosrt in 145 years

Last year’s El Niño caused severe erosion across California coastline. In fact, researchers believe that it was the worst cliamte event in the past 145 years.

If extreme El Niño episodes become more frequent in the future as some studies suggest they might, populated regions across the Pacific Ocean will suffer more intense coastal flooding and soil loss.

The conclusions came at the end of a large collaborative effort in which scientists U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and many other institutes examined the coastline across the Pacific Ocean. By investigating 29 beaches along the West Coast from Washington to Southern California, researchers have found that the latest winter beach erosion on the Pacific Coast caused by 2015-16 El Niño was 76 percent above normal, causing sand erosion beyond historical extremes.

The outcome is based on 3-D surface maps using aerial LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), GPS topographic surveys and direct measurements of sand quantities. That data was then compared with level of water on each beach during the last nineteen years (1997 to 2016).

“Wave conditions and coastal response were unprecedented for many locations during the winter of 2015-16. The winter wave energy equaled or exceeded measured historical maximums along the West Coast, corresponding to extreme beach erosion across the region.”Patrick Barnard, a geologist with the USGS and lead author of the study said.

El Niño typically occurs every two to seven years. This temporary warm phase can disrupt global weather patterns including the level of droughts, precipitation and erosion. On California Coast, winter beach erosion or removal of sand from the beach is a part of seasonal pattern but reoccurance of El Nino could intensify the process.

The El Niño event of winter 2015-16 was one of the most erosive over the past century or so. New research data suggests the predicted increase in El Nino events will exacerbate coastal erosion in the region.

"It looks like climate change will bring us more El Niño events, possibly twice as many, at twice the frequency as in the past. So this is a taste of what's coming.” said ecologist David Hubbard, UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute.

First we need to understand the challenges, and those include the rising sea level and the fact that most of the problems occur during these peak El Niño events. Then we need to restore or manage our coasts in ways that will enable us to deal with these events and conserve beach ecosystems. I think that's the challenge that we as a society have to address.”

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