Famed Malibu beach is disappearing under rising sea eroding


Malibu homeowners with houses overlooking Broad Beach are fighting two battles. The first one is against public-access activists, who accuse homeowners of illegally using private security guards keep the public off the beach. The second battle is against a rising sea level erosion that has reduced the beach to a mere sliver. The LA Times reports with a story and video. The sandbagging efforts shown in the video seem futile.

Sandwiched between the advancing sea and coastal armor built to protect multimillion-dollar homes, the strip of sand is being swept away by waves and tides. Soon, oceanographers and coastal engineers contend, the rising ocean will eclipse the clash between the beach-going public and the private property owners: There will be no dry sand left to fight over.


"These folks in these overly rich communities will be sipping their martinis during some big El Niño and watching their backyards disappear in 5-feet chunks," [Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] said. "In the end, Mother Nature and global warming will win. No matter how much concrete they pour, all of those sea walls and houses will end up in the ocean."

Malibu's vanishing Broad Beach a sign of rising sea levels, experts say*

(*Note: Michael Leddy of Orange Crate Art had a funny post a while back about news headlines with the words "experts say" in them.)


  1. Beach erosion occurs all the time and the only place it really gets publicity is when it encroaches on people’s homes. Of course, who is at fault in that case, the ocean or the owners for building the houses there in the first place? When people remove the natural dunes and vegetation from beach areas they are promoting this type of erosion as well.

    Sure, rising sea levels will cause more of this in the future, but this is nothing new. I can remember it being a big deal when I was a child in Florida 25 years ago. Now they dump sand and build jetties other control mechanisms to help mitigate this issue.

  2. The sea level rise so far is still in the centimeter range. Beaches are typically lost because development has messed up the process of replacing the sand that gets eroded away, for example, if streams that bring new sand to the beach get dammed up, or new pavement changes the path water takes to the sea, or a new harbor is built.

    A couple of decades from now, global warming will probably be more of a factor in the loss of beaches. But not so far.

  3. Pegging normal beach erosion as due to global warming just gives fodder to the climate change deniers. Beaches are dynamic areas, moving rivers of sand, and houses built on beachfronts are by definition temporary structures.
    I can remember being told that the shoreline was eroding in Santa Cruz at about a foot per year- what we didn’t realize until the storms of the ’80’s was that meant nothing changed for 50 years, and then we lost 50 feet in one night.

  4. if you go to the beach much winter storms always take away sand offshore and then the summer tides and currents rebuild the beach. Go up the coast where there are no beach front homes and there is plenty of sand and beach area. I’ve been going there for 20 years and there no change in the beach in the surrounding areas.

  5. Wealthy malibu residents who build beachfront properties should consider their homes to be temporary anyway.

  6. Boo hoo. beaches disappear in places, beaches are formed in others. It surprises me that people that buy beach front property don’t understand this.

  7. Beach loss due to Global Warming? Whatever.

    If the oceans had really risen that much already, we would have much bigger problems to deal with than a few rich folk losing their beach.

  8. This was a problem on Lake Michigan near Chicago nearly 20 years ago when I lived there – it was a result of development (piers & so on jutting out into the lake) changing current flow resulting in sand being eroded away from areas where it used to be deposited. There were parts of the North Shore where they would regularly truck in sand from other areas to help build up the beach.

  9. Maybe we’ll have time to remove all the fishes and stuff from the oceans, to lower their level, before it is too late?

  10. We had this in Oregon a few years ago — the rich people tried to keep the public off “their” beaches, and then when Mother Nature batted last and started to take their homes, they suddenly appealed to that same public to bail them out.

    Guess what the answer was?

  11. Look on the bright side. With the Yellowstone supervolcano about to blow and create a new ice age, we’ll have beautiful volcanic ash beaches extending for dozens of miles into what used to be oceans. And Sarah Palin will not only be able to see Russia from her window, she’ll be able to walk there. Every cloud has a carcinogenic silicate lining.

  12. From the article it sounds more like the beaches are disappearing due to erosion than from a rising sea level.

  13. Here in Hawaii they’re re-building the Arizona Memorial visitor center. The plans include the expectation that sea levels will rise 8′ over the next few decades. I estimate that I will have ocean front property if the sea level would rise about 15′. That would be just enough to cover my neighbor’s property. Guess I’ll have to leave that to my grandchildren or great grandchildren.

  14. I think these posts should be labeled as having “FUDlines” instead of “Headlines”. OK so maybe instead of Fear, Uncertainty and Death you could call them “Confusing, Obfuscated and Misleading” or COM for short.

  15. My sister and I, were big fans of lying out in the narrow pathways that were publicly accessible between the million-dollar homes. When we started to go there in June of ’86, no one would go out there but us. By the end of the that summer, they were packed. (I guess we started a trend.) It used to be so nice and quiet there and was a refuge from the main beaches that were filled with morons who would blast their boomboxes. This was in days before Sony Walkmans were commonplace.

    Now I’m shocked to see those beaches have completely disappeared. Wow. We are so f-ed due to global warming.

  16. Wow, a whole sandbox full of sanity re: erosion vs. ocean height. I guess the reason I keep coming back is because it’s nice to read comments by thinking people occasionally. Happy New Year to all.

  17. “Wow, a whole sandbox full of sanity re: erosion vs. ocean height.”

    Not really. The original article is correct, i.e. some beach erosion can be rightfully attributed to elevated sea levels due to global warming. Going forward it is without question that beaches will disappear, estuaries flooded and ocean front property lost due to a rising sea. And it’s all happening much, much faster than anyone though possible.

    As the article states, our current rise in sea level is eight inches and each inch represents 50 inches of coastal land. Moreover, the fires in California are also due to climate change. All across the world Mediterranean climates are turning to Desert. The interior of the US will become desert brush and scrub in 40 years, perhaps less, and we will be unable to grow wheat. If we lose the Greenland ice caps expect a 6 meter rise in seal level. That means we lose most of Florida, New York and other coastal environs. New Orleans is totally fucked.

    Scientists have stopped begging that we try to stop climate change. We can’t, that question is now moot. What we can do is to adapt to what is coming in the hope that we may yet save civilization itself. We are at the beginning of the sixth great extinction bottleneck. Happy New Year.

  18. Moreover, the fires in California are also due to climate change.

    Painting with a broad brushfire there. I blame development and firefighting. Many forests in fact depend on fires, houses, not so much.

  19. Tweeker
    “Painting with a broad brushfire there. I blame development and firefighting.”

    Climate is a broad brush. It is not local, it is global. It is not weather, it is climate. It’s effects are not seen in years or even decades but they are real none the less.

    It is a simple and inescapable fact that all Mediterranean climates are turning to Desert climate. Development and fire response can make things better or worse for the short term but that boulder is rolling downhill and it will come to rest at “desert climate” no matter what you do.

    The same is true of the oceans. Ice on land and sea is melting and will continue to melt regardless of any counter measures we could possibly take. The oceans will rise a few feet at the very least, many more at worst. The article is correct in identifying a rise in sea level due to climate change as a part of the problem. Our current eight inch rise in sea level translates into 33 feet of beach front lost to the ocean. Any erosion due to human development simply adds to it.

    “And then one day you find
    Ten years have got behind you
    No one told you when to run
    You missed the starting gun”

    Denial is not adaptive.

  20. Rsng s lvls frm glbl wrmng?
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    Cm n Ppl, d yr hmwrk.
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    Wh s mkng mny frm ll ths glbl wrmng/clmt chng frc th md prpgts.

    f y wnt th rl fcts g t http://www.ccp.s

  21. re: icecap.us,

    A winter with record snowfalls is evidence counter to global warming? feh. weather /= climate

  22. Waves can remove or deposit sand. As poster #5 pointed out, “winter” waves remove sand, while “summer” waves deposit sand. It has to do with a combination of wave height, wave length and particle size. So-called winter waves suck the particulate back out before they have time to settle.

    But where number five gets it wrong is that even the “summer” waves cannot deposit sand if there is no sand to deposit. To have sandy beaches, you need a supply of sand. It can come from eroding cliffs, and if you manage to stop the cliff from eroding (for a short time, you silly humans) you starve the beach. Sand supply can also be provided from sediment loads from rivers. If you turn your riverbeds into concrete canals, as is the case in many places in California, you starve the beach. Littoral cells are made up of sources and sinks. Without a source, well, your beach goes bye-bye.

    On the east coast of the US, it is a very different kind of shoreline. In the middle of a plate, the east coast consists of long plains of sediments from the Appalachians, which used to be considerably more impressive than they are. For these beaches to maintain their size and form, they have to move. Barrier islands actually roll over on themselves like the tractor treads on a tank. But people build on these dynamic shorelines and try to stop the movement. What happens is the beach erodes. Go down to North Caroline next summer and have a swim off an oceanside beach on one of the islands. The surf is confused and choppy. The offshore drop off is more severe. You don’t have the long stretches of sand with the nice smooth rollers sliding in to the beach.

    Beach hardening destroys the beach. Put up a seawall to protect property, and you lose beach. Put up a groin or a jetty, and you might accumulate some sand on the upstream side of the structure, but you starve the beach downdrift.

    Groins beget groins which beget more groins. There is a term for this, when the sprawling beautiful natural beach gives way to groin and after groin and short beaches with choppy surf. It is called the new jerseyfication of the shoreline, a term that I’m sure residents of the Garden State do not appreciate. Seawalls don’t help. You just need to let the beach do what it does without impeding it.

    In New Orleans you have another situation. The massive sediment load from the Mississippi has been piling up on that delta for so long that the crust of the Earth is actually subsiding there. So everything is sinking. Yet in the short term, flood control efforts upstream had reduced immediate sediment supplies.

    As a general rule, beach-hardening and flood control measures cause more harm than good. And beach replenishment also known as beach renourishment? It’s a temporary fix with high costs both environmentally and monetarily. The nature of a beach that is laid down by wave action is very different from one that is made up of dredged sand pumped onto the beach, or trucked in. Microscopic infauna might survive, though no one had chunked out the money to seriously research it. But larger animals cannot use the beach. The obvious example is sea turtle nesting. Less visible, but arguably more devastating, is the damage done by beach replenishment to the shoreline invertebrates, to say nothing of the organisms destroyed in offshore regions where sand is mined.

    It gets complicated. But it is terribly interesting stuff. Read anything and everything by Orrin Pilkey. There’s also a book called “Against the Tide” by Cornelia Dean.

    Last time I looked on the Wikipedia, I wasn’t seeing much about these beach erosion issues, about the very controversial nature of building seawalls and groins and doing beach replenishment.

    From what I can tell, if the Army Corps of Engineers is involved in it, it is a bad idea. I thought they were a bad news when I was studying marine beaches. Lately I’ve turned my focus to rivers and, whew, they’ve been just
    as busy and destructive inland as on our coasts. They are just busy, busy, busy. All these projects, not so good for the communities who are paying through the nose and sure not good for the environment.

    Last I looked on the Wikipedia, I saw damn little about the beach erosion issues and not a single mention of Pilkey. Methinks the ACOE has been very busy over there on the Wikipedia, controlling the flow of information like they try to control the waves. I need to check it again, but what I saw the last time I searched there (about a year ago) was simple the ACOE company line.

    I wonder if their control trolls will pay a visit here now? It seems to be business as usual.

    I’m thinking the folks at TED should invite Pilkey to give a little talk.

  23. I live on the beach in southern Australia and a similar thing is happening here, however they have successfully kept the erosion under control. What they do here is truck the sand back from where it is deposited. Every so often, huge trucks deposit massive piles of sand, which are then spread out using earth movers. A more permanent solution is also being worked on involving the use of pumping equipment and huge pipes to replace the trucks.

  24. Everything Pipenta said you can find in the original article. The beaches are eroding for these reasons plus rising sea levels due to climate change. To think you can stop it is the modern day equivalent of setting your throne on the beach and commanding the tide to not come in. Hubris it seems, is timeless.

  25. most interesting. Have you, Dear Pipenta, had occasion to travel to Japan and view their beach erosion approach?

  26. What bugs me about wealthy homeowners on beaches or barrier islands is they have insurance. Average people living in older homes are usually insured, if at all, with insurers of last resort or the state, even when their homes are above the storm surge. When the storm comes, the rich leave town for the mountains or stay at a nice hotel, leaving behind insured contents worth many times more than the average home. When they lose everything, the insurance companies payout huge sums, then they rebuild on the same damn spot. These are the same insurance companies that dropped almost everyone else.

  27. I’ve heard of the tetrapods. I haven’t actually seen them in action. It seems to me they could make the beach a lower energy environment, but if there is no sand supply, I would think it would be a limited fix.

    All kinds of interesting fixes have been attempted. Seawalls aren’t always a problem, it depends on the beach and it depends where on the beach the seawall is located. But I think more often than not, they are a problem. I don’t think the structure of the seawall makes as much difference as you’d think. Intuitively you’d think a wall that wasn’t solid (say rip-rap held in place with wire mesh) wouldn’t cause the destruction that a solid wall would. And you’d think the height and length of the wall and even the angle of it would give you some wiggle room. But I don’t think it especially pans out that way in practice.

    There are all these tidy little math formulas, but they just don’t take into account the individuality of the beach. The profile of the bottom that those waves roll over on their way in to shore is going to change the waves. And the waves change the bottom. The wind direction, the wave length, the tide, all of it is constantly changing and the whole system is in flux all the time. Engineering formulas just don’t cut it for designing solutions. Seriously you just need to let the beach be a beach. Beaches move. Period.

    There are going to be some sites, in harbors and around bridges, where the kludgy fixes will have to do. But to keep Buffy’s beach house in place? Fuggedaboutit!

    And yeah, I went off on a tear without reading the article. Shame on me. It’s just this beach stuff makes me crazy. It’s people trying to own what can’t be owned. We are so desperate for everything to be property. Drive along the US coast and you see all these beach houses that have NO business being there. And it’s not just from my usual funky lefty point of view (though there’s that for sure), it’s also that we all end up paying the cost for this stupidity. And if folks can afford to buy that damn shoreline real estate in the first place, I don’t see why the general public has to assist in the funding of rebuilding when the inevitable storm comes along and washes the house away. It is just craaaazy.

    Tak, I haven’t studied this all seriously. I’ve read a half dozen books and taken about three oceanography classes that covered beach erosion issues. It wasn’t particularly my field, but it always interested me, so I kept going back to it. And when I took the first class I had already read a bunch of books on the subject, so I kind of freaked out the prof. At first he was convinced I was brilliant (and I’m so not) because I don’t think he’d ever had a student who’d gone and read that stuff for fun before they’d taken the class. Clearly he was teaching at a school didn’t recruit nearly enough nerds.

    I grew up on Long Island Sound, where there are no waves in the summer, else who knows, I might have ended up as a surfer.

    I’m NOT an expert. I just dig this stuff.

  28. Giant caltrops! The Japanese are covering their beaches with giant caltrops!

  29. Japanese tetrapods are supposedly for typhoon blast, from what I’ve seen,they work somewhat. They also make huge money for concrete firms (mob/govt.concrete firms) as well as rural make-work. They’re fun to dive among, full of life like any reef. You can rest on them and feel them rock with the waves sometimes. If you are really clumsy they can trap you. Nice for basking in calms.

  30. “It’s people trying to own what can’t be owned. We are so desperate for everything to be property.”

    Waddare ya, sum kinna commurnist? Doan cha no gawed gave dis for ussal to have dominoes over it.

  31. I’m glad a government employee is deciding who is “overly rich” (and he knows what they drink). I suppose he wants the housing prices at the beach regulated so the “overly poor” can afford them (while drinking cheap beer).

  32. Down here in Panama (the country, not the floridian city), erosion is worsened by sand extraction to feed the construction bubble, while beach and wetland areas are being sold to the rich. So, come visit us while it lasts!

  33. I say: private property is the way to go. Everyone knows that only true owners will see to develop what they have control over. ;)

    So, as a definitive solution, for the sake of the depossessed Malibu dwellers and this planet, I propose to relocate their properties in the Sahara and see what will become of it.

  34. Rich people who move to the beach and complain about the ocean are like poor people who move out by the airport and complain about the noise.
    See? We aren’t so different after all. Now, can someone help me push-start my car?

  35. As long as my taxes aren’t bailing these people out, I have no complaints. Let them pay exhorbitant insurance (and let the insurance companies charge them whatever they need to to stay profitable), face the not-unlikely possibility of losing their homes, and fight their own mostly futile battles against erosion. It’s all just part of the cost of living in an impractical place. So yeah, they’re either foolish or rich enough not to care, but I don’t see what there is to get angry/self-righteous about.

  36. The picture looks like it was photoshopped horribly – you know, with the smear tool or whatever it is.

    It also looks like The Blob is eating that guy.

  37. #67 posted by Moriarty , January 2, 2009 7:52 AM

    …So yeah, they’re either foolish or rich enough not to care, but I don’t see what there is to get angry/self-righteous about.

    My main complaint against many of these folks is that I was formerly one of the non-rich Southern Californians they illegally tried to keep off their “private” beaches. That and the fact that coastal homeowners often bitch about how they deserve disaster relief funds when they go a-slidin’ down the hillside.

    I don’t have any problem with the rest of them.

  38. You know. . . if the homeowners put up the money to rebuild the beach they will also validate their claims to private ownership of the beachfront, a la “we paid for this sand to be trucked in here and these jetties to be installed.”

  39. post #42
    What happened to my post?
    Somebody took the letters out of my words?
    Isn’t that cyber-vandalism?
    I think I have been violated.
    I need Vanna White to buy a vowel or too.
    Have I been censored?
    What gives?


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