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Shorelines worldwide are in a state of erosion, and rising sea level is a major cause. Given today's level of coastal development, predicting how fast shorelines will retreat is a top priority for many countries.

In this article, Orrin H. Pilkey of Duke University in North Carolina and J. Andrew G. Cooper of the University of Ulster reveal that the mathematical model many countries use is woefully inaccurate, however. The so-called Bruun rule is a "hazard to society" because it is too limited to take into account the complexities and variations of real shorelines.

They call instead for a new, qualitative method combining the extrapolation of past rates of erosion with an "expert eye" that factors in future development and geologic factors such as atolls. And they stress that we will have to accept that accurate predictions are ultimately impossible.

Link to full article in Science

Reference: Science 303, 1781 (2004)