Study: Sand dunes, coral reefs protect coasts against climate change

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Conducted by a team of Stanford University scientists, the research is published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change.

It said extreme weather and elevated sea levels put 16 percent of U.S. coastlines at “high-hazard” risk, according to a USA Today account of the study. Failing to protect reefs, sand dunes and other natural habitats could double the number of people on the coasts affected by climate change, it said.

From USA Today:

They found good and bad news. On the plus side, natural habitats now protect two-thirds or 67% of U.S. coastlines. Yet the 16% of high-risk coastlines that are within a kilometer of the shore are home to 1.3 million people and $300 billion in residential property. The study says sea level rise, a result of climate change's rising temperatures, will increase the number of threatened people 30% to 60% by the year 2100.

The study comes as the federal government is looking for ways to make coasts more resilient to powerful storms in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the Northeast last fall.

The storm exacted a toll on the East Coast, uprooting thousands of families from their homes. It also cost taxpayers roughly $60 billion in disaster relief.

President Obama made strengthening the coasts a priority in the climate change plan he announced last month, arguing Americans would continue footing the bill for expensive rebuilding without more preventive work.

The Senate has sent much the same message.

It included an extreme weather section for the first time in the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes a slew of water infrastructure projects, which the upper chamber passed in May.