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Surprising Science

657 New Barrier Islands Discovered

The Earth has 657 more barrier islands than previously thought, according to a new global survey by researchers from Duke University and Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.

What’s the Latest Development?

Using satellite images, topographical maps and navigational charts, researchers have identified a total of 2,149 barrier islands—657 more than the 1,492 previously thought to exist. “This provides proof that barrier islands exist in every climate and in every tide-wave combination,” said study team member Orrin H. Pilkey of Duke University. “We found that everywhere there is a flat piece of land next to the coast, a reasonable supply of sand, enough waves to move sand or sediment about, and a recent sea-level rise that caused a crooked shoreline, barrier islands exist.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Just when we realized the world is a smaller place than ever and that every possible corner of the globe had been probed by a team of scientists and explorers, a surprise bubbles up from the deep. In this case, islands. They did not appear yesterday, but instead were overlooked. And just barely born into our awareness, they risk disappearing because of rising sea levels. Development pressures that bring seawalls, jetties and groins threaten islands’ natural abilities to adapt to a changing ocean.


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