On maps, coasts are depicted as a simple line. Compared to reality, that immediate switch between green and blue cannot capture the complexities of the transition. The continuum between land and ocean is expansive, and subject to rapid shifts with the tides, seasonal cycles, and during episodic bursts of extreme weather. These ever-shifting dynamics influence the organisms who live on the coasts--from microbes, to humans, to massive coral reefs--and the global biogeochemical processes they impact, like the sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere. Energy, economies and national defenses depend on the coasts, and the majority of Earth’s population lives near the sea. Coastal populations continue to grow, yet these regions are the most threatened by extreme weather, sea level rise, and climate changes.
Considering the scale of coastal complexity, perhaps it’s no surprise that a pixel’s worth of space on a map glosses over a few features. Even the most sophisticated Earth system models are designed to predict the processes that control the habitability of our planet, but within their parameterizations there are effectively no coasts. The complexities of geochemical, biological and physical transformations that take place along coastal interfaces--and how they interact and evolve through space and time--simply remain too poorly understood and integrated across disciplines.
Enter the Coasts Collection, a roundup of reviews, perspectives, and research articles recently published in Nature Communications that spans across disciplines in coastal science. The inspiration for putting together this collection was the realization that across the life, physical and social sciences, coastal research at our journal is booming. We wanted to bring it all together. Now that the collection is out, we hope that it will serve as an inspiration in and of itself, a springboard for future, cross-disciplinary research.
The research articles fall under three overarching topics. First, a coastal biogeochemistry section features papers that delve into elemental cycling, with a large focus on the fate of carbon in coastal systems. Next, the articles under the coastal physics and natural hazards umbrella showcases research into the causes and consequences of sea level rise, flooding, and extreme weather. Rounding out the primary research is a group of papers on the ecology of coastal systems, looking at how chemistry and physics shape coastal populations of plants, animals and microbes.
Humans have always been drawn to the coasts. Over the past century, coastal populations have swelled, drawn in by their beauty and the abundant opportunities life by the sea can afford. The abundant future of coastal systems is not guaranteed, however. We lead this collection with an editorial that summarizes the threats to the sustainability of Earth’s coasts, and our call for the elevation of coastal science as a unique discipline in its own right that bridges research across fields to tackle the consequences of a changing climate.