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In recent years, rough winter nor'easter storms have left their mark on the Massachusetts coastline. And in communities from Cape Cod to the North Shore, oceanfront property owners are worried about the future.

The Falmouth Bulletin reports on the conversation here: ("Coastal erosion challenges Cape Cod," by Dan MacAlpine). "The good news," the paper notes: "The drive to the beach may be shorter in coming years. The bad news we've already seen. Especially last winter. Homes falling into the ocean. Beaches scoured of sand. Seawalls and jetties degraded or destroyed. Roads washed out or buried in sand and debris."

But experts tell the Bulletin that one bad winter doesn't make a trend — and that beaches are dynamic by nature. "There are areas where we've seen significant erosion and others where we've seen accretion," said Bruce Carlisle, director of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management. "Between 2001 and 2008, where we've done the actual mapping, within that small decade, the shoreline has moved up and back a little bit."

"It's important to distinguish between the loss of a beach and the migration of a beach or barrier island, when an entire system can respond by changing its location," government researcher Rob Thieler told the paper. "Sometimes coastal changes are asymmetric. There can be narrowing for a decade or two, followed by widening, depending on how the overall system is changing."

Given all those uncertainties, there's another big unknown: Do man's efforts to fight erosion make things better or worse? The Duxbury Reporter has this look at the issue: ("Changing Coastline: Is infrastructure the answer?" by William J. Dowd and Dan MacAlpine).

"Seawalls, jetties, groins, breakwaters and beach nourishment or replacing lost sand–sometimes with costs running into the millions of dollars per community–are the main tools coastal residents and municipalities have to hold back the sea and reduce storm damage like the commonwealth saw last winter," the paper reports. "The debate over exactly how effective such defenses are versus their construction costs has just begun, and no one has clear-cut answers, especially when factoring in sea-level rise. In many cases, experts say armoring the beaches only makes the situation worse by blocking the sand's natural movement, which dissipates wave energy, forcing further and deeper beach erosion because the wave energy has no place to go."