Deltas Gain Ground–But the Trend Won’t Last  

Earth’s river deltas have long been home to vital ports and wetlands. Despite sea-level rise, these economic and ecological hotspots have expanded on the whole in recent decades, scientists have found—but this trend is unlikely to last. Geoscientist Jaap Nienhuis of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and his colleagues have pinpointed almost 11,000 river deltas in data from satellites and worldwide field studies. Using computer simulations, they estimated how tides, waves and human activity upstream affected each delta’s size and shape from 1985 through 2015. In many watersheds along South America’s eastern coast, as well as Asia’s eastern, southern and southeastern coasts, the researchers found that deforestation increased sediment carried by rivers—and that deltas have grown accordingly. (The Ganges delta, as seen here, is one such example.) In North America, however, dams have trimmed the volume of sediment available to nourish many river deltas.

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