Coastal Land Area Is Expanding So Fast That ‘Catastrophic’ Sea Level Rise Cannot Keep Up

Contrary to what would be expected with alarmingly high sea level rise rates, shorelines across the world are expanding rather than retreating into the sea.

A few months ago we highlighted an analysis of the post-2000 net expansion (from 1007.60 km² to 1069.35 km², or +6.1%) in coastal land area for 221 Pacific and Indian Ocean islands (Holdaway et al., 2021).

Over half of the net 21st century growth (39 km² of 62 km²) for these islands occurred in a span of just four years: 2013 to 2017.

Image Source: Holdaway et al., 2021

Notice the rapid shoreline changes in these satellite images of the coast of Lagos, Nigeria (Adeaga et al., 2021). The first (b) is from 2006. The second (c) is 2012. The last image (f) is 2020.

Between 2001 and 2020 the average regional net shoreline growth rate was +0.93 m/year. One area – Victorian Island – has had a mean shoreline change rate of +6.24 m/year.

Image Source: Adeaga et al., 2021

The current shoreline for Salerno City, southern Italy, has expanded seawards rather rapidly in recent centuries (Amato et al., 2020). If we track the relative location of the red “GS” dot from the below images we see that the 17th to 18th centuries (0.3 ka) had a shoreline >250 m further landward than 2016.

Image Source: Amato et al., 2020

During Roman times (~2200-1600 years ago), CO2 levels were about 265 ppm. Ephesus was then a thriving seaport city situated on the Aegean Sea.

Sea levels have fallen ~2-3 m in recent millennia, as more water is trapped on land as ice today.

The Ephesus harbor remains are now 9 km from the coast.

Image Source: and David Noel, Australia

A new study (Desruelles et al., 2021) details the history of Rue, a sea harbor town in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Today Rue sits ~6 km from the sea coast.

Evidence for the presence of Late Holocene dunes and sand can be found spanning from the Rue site to the current coastline. A 1579 map still had Rue nearly bordering the sea, suggesting that the retreat of the sea waters has been relatively recent.

Image Source: Desruelles et al., 2021

Scientists (Lee et al., 2021) have studied the history of Holocene coastal flooding along the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. Judging from the distance (km) metric in the legend, the study site (red circle) is located at least 50 km inland from today’s coast.

The authors determined sea levels during the Early to Middle Holocene (peaking ~6,000 years ago) were high enough that marine species and “abundant shell fragments” can be found at the study site, which means “sea levels reached the vicinity of the study area during this period.”

Image Source: Lee et al., 2021

Italy’s famous leaning-tower city, Pisa, used to be a bustling sea port just ~3,300 years ago. That was when sea levels were much higher than they are today.

As the seas retreated over the next millennia, Pisa was left sitting almost 4 km from the sea coast during the Roman Warm Period.

Today Pisa is located 9.7 km from the coast.

Image Source:

6 responses to “Coastal Land Area Is Expanding So Fast That ‘Catastrophic’ Sea Level Rise Cannot Keep Up”

  1. Nial

    I remember Mary Beard (British historian) showing where the boats would have been tied up just outside the wall of Pompeii at its port.

    It’s now hundreds of meters (or more) from the sea.

  2. richard

    The ancient remains of the city of Troy was also nestling next to the sea, today it is a few kilometres from the sea.

  3. Senex

    Good news, but we need to be careful about what conclusions we draw from the examples given. Salerno is located close to Naples, an area of active geologic and volcanic uplift. We need to distinguish between changes in sea level and land elevation.

    1. Mike Edwards

      Yes, I agree – Greece and Turkey also are highly active tectonic areas, with the land levels moving both up and down in various places as the plates grind against each other. It is equally possible to find ancient sites there that are now well underwater – Cape Sounion south of Athens is an example.

  4. Jouven

    Shouldn’t be the case if the ice is melting and if, big IF, most the ice water was?/is? already taking liquid water space, solid water AKA ice takes more space than liquid water

  5. Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #487 – Watts Up With That?

    […] Coastal Land Area Is Expanding So Fast That ‘Catastrophic’ Sea Level Rise Cannot Keep Up […]

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this. More information at our Data Privacy Policy