"The iconic white cliffs of southern England are eroding 10 times faster than they have over the past few thousand years, a new study has revealed.
The cause of the huge acceleration is likely to be human management of the coastline, which has stripped some cliffs of their protective beaches, as well as changes in storm intensity. Climate change, which is bringing higher sea levels and fiercer waves, will make the erosion even worse, say scientists.
Researchers analysed rocks from Beachy Head and Seaford Head in East Sussex and discovered that the cliff erosion rate over most of the past 7,000 years was just two-six centimetres a year. But the erosion rate over the past 150 years has been much higher at 22-32cm a year.
“We were very surprised at the stark difference,” said Martin Hurst, at the University of Glasgow, who led the new work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “If you have a nice thick and wide beach in front of a cliff, that reflects wave energy. But the beaches have all but disappeared.”