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New Report Finds 3.7 Million U.S. Residents at Risk from Rising Sea Levels
A new report from Climate Central presents troubling data to suggest that rising sea levels, a result of global warning, could cause significant areas of the U.S. coastline to be flooded by the end of the century. The report, “Surging Seas: Sea level rise, storms & global warming: a threat to the US Coast” highlights risks posed to Florida and Louisiana, and found that California, New York and New Jersey are also particularly vulnerable to rising tides. Noting that “Global warming has raised sea level about 8 inches since 1880,” the report’s authors found that scientists expect the seas to rise another 20-80 inches by 2100, dependent on the rate that climate change progresses.
Climate Central, a non-profit founded in 2008, based their extensive report on two recent peer-reviewed studies, with information compiled from the 2010 census, the National Elevation Dataset and tidal information from the National Oceanic and Atmorpheric Administration. As such, it is the first major national analysis of sea level rises in 20 years. The authors note that the report is the first of its kind to include estimates of land, population and housing at risk from coastal inundation, as well as evaluations of every low-lying coastal town, city, country and state in the contiguous US.
The report looks at century levels at 55 sites in the U.S., flood levels they define as “so high that they would historically be expected just once per century,” and found that in three-quarters of the sites analyzed, the century levels are “higher than four feet above the high tide line.” Yet almost 5 million people live in homes at less than four feet above high tide, and 3.7 reside at less than one meter (3.3 feet) above high tide.
As homeowners in these areas rely on an ever-beleaguered government support from FEMA and its National Flood Insurance Program, there are often suggestions that the populations of low lying areas ought to relocate. The report is careful to note that it is not solely independent residents that live in these areas, but that flooding to four feet could cover 3 million acres including “military bases, agricultural lands and toxic waste dumps.” Century flooding poses a sizable risk to national infrastructure and industry.
Furthermore, as the storm surges from Hurricane Irene this past summer showed, it’s not just low lying Southern States which are at risk from residing below century flood levels. While New Orleans ranks first in cities with the “largest total populations living on land less than four feet above local high tide,” New York City ranks second. Likewise, the study suggest that Chesapeake Bay faces the same theoretical projected sea level rise as Louisiana Barrier Island of Grand Isle. So before we pack up and move to Wyoming, it may be worth exploring possibilities to slow global warming and stem the rising sea levels.
Benjamin Strauss, one of the report’s authors described to the New York Times, “Sea level rise is like an invisible tsunami, building force while we do almost nothing… We have a closing window of time to prevent the worst by preparing for higher seas.” Climate change deniers may protest that rising sea levels are simply the Earth’s natural sway, but the report supports strong evidence that global warming is the major driving force, and as such, it is within our power to not only defend against rising tides, but also reduce the rate at which they rise.
Climate Central describes that “Warming has acted in two main ways: by heating up and thus expanding the global ocean; and by attacking glaciers and polar ice sheets, pouring meltwater and icebergs into the sea. The planet has heated by more than one degree Fahrenheit over the last century, rising faster as we have burned coal, oil and gas faster, and so sent ever more heat-trapping gases into the air. Scientists overwhelmingly agree that these building gases are responsible for most of the warming observed thus far.”
But if we can make “deep and immediate cuts to pollution,” then we might avoid a rise in sea levels so great as to “drown many major coastal metropolises,” and that’s something we might all work towards.
To see the flood levels in your areas, visit the Surging Seas website.
All Images © flickr user DVIDSHUB,
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