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Your Favorite Beach Is Disappearing

The loss of our sandy shorelines is a warning from the future of our overheated planet.

My beach isn’t the sort that comes to mind when you’re planning a late-winter getaway. There are no beach towels, umbrella drinks, salt-kissed tans, or brightly colored swimwear. At my beach, there’s only the smudged horizon, a gray blurring of sea and sky, and the winter-gold sea grasses that bend toward the sand.

As I approach, mist films my glasses. A stiff southwesterly wind pummels my ears. When I reach the sands, stretching north and south as far as I can see, I’m the only human in sight.

To walk the beach is to walk the margins, a between-space as dynamic and unpredictable as the ocean itself. Each day, each hour, each minute brings something new. Today I examine a lanky tree torn from some distant shore, roots intact, branches shorn, bark weathered beyond recognition. I bend toward an array of patterns, nature-etched hieroglyphics in the sand: wrinkled lines, dimpled troughs, rivulets that squiggle with the ambition of a river. Within hours, they’ll be gone. At my beach I feel small, in the same good way I felt small when I lived near a glacier. I need that feeling, a reminder my frets and worries are small, too.

When I left Alaska, I knew the glaciers were disappearing. I didn’t know the beaches I moved to were disappearing, too. According to a study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, half the world’s sandy beaches will likely be gone by the end of the century, due to global warming.

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