Sea-level rise and shoreline retreat: time to abandon the Bruun Rule

Andrew Cooper, OH Pilkey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

348 Citations (Scopus)


In the face of a global rise in sea level, understanding the response of the shoreline to changes in sea level is a critical scientific goal to inform policy makers and managers. A body of scientific information exists that illustrates both the complexity of the linkages between sea-level rise and shoreline response, and the comparative lack of understanding of these linkages. In spite of the lack of understanding, many appraisals have been undertaken that employ a concept known as the ``Bruun Rule''. This is a simple two-dimensional model of shoreline response to rising sea level. The model has seen near global application since its original formulation in 1954. The concept provided an advance in understanding of the coastal system at the time of its first publication. It has, however, been superseded by numerous subsequent findings and is now invalid. Several assumptions behind the Braun Rule are known to be false and nowhere has the Braun Rule been adequately proven; on the contrary several studies disprove it in the field. No universally applicable model of shoreline retreat under sea-level rise has yet been developed. Despite this, the Bruun Rule is in widespread contemporary use at a global scale both as a management tool and as a scientific concept. The persistence of this concept beyond its original assumption base is attributed to the following factors: 1. Appeal of a simple, easy to use analytical model that is in widespread use. 2. Difficulty of determining the relative validity of `proofs' and `disproofs'. 3. Ease of application. 4. Positive advocacy by some scientists. 5. Application by other scientists without critical appraisal. 6. The simple numerical expression of the model. 7. Lack of easy alternatives. The Bruun Rule has no power for predicting shoreline behaviour under rising sea level and should be abandoned. It is a concept whose time has passed. The belief by policy makers that it offers a prediction of future shoreline position may well have stifled much-needed research into the coastal response to sea-level rise. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-171
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Nov 2004


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