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Climate change and the risk of rising seas

Posted by Erin Flaherty on Apr 25, 2012
Tags: climate change news

How do you picture climate change? Aside from the warming part, another problem lies in the future: rising sea levels, which means a higher risk of damaging floods in coastal communities.

According to Climate Central’s recent Surging Seas report, sea levels are rising fast. Since 1880, they have increased by about eight inches, and by 2030 they’re expected to increase as much as eight more inches.

Some people are already planning ahead for disaster. The president of Kiribati, a country in the South Pacific Islands, is planning to buy land in Fiji for the purpose of relocating the island’s entire population. This seems like a worst-case scenario, but it’s based on fact—flooding means displacement. Kiribati sits about two meters above sea level, and some of its flat coral reefs have already disappeared. The study estimates that 700 million people may become climate refugees by 2050. The countries most likely to be affected are Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and India, all with substantial low-lying coastal areas.

The threat of rising seas goes along with the recent findings of a panel of climate scientists, who confirmed that extreme weather disasters are imminent. In particular, parts of Mumbai in India could become uninhabitable due to floods and storms. The people most vulnerable to rising seas and extreme weather live in less developed regions of the world.

Here in the U.S., we won’t be spared. The report found that about five million people in the U.S. live in low-lying areas that are likely to be affected by 2050. Even land that sits four feet above high tide line will be vulnerable as sea levels rise. And more than people are threatened. Buildings, hospitals, military bases, agricultural lands, toxic waste dumps, and even some nuclear power plants sit in these areas that are at risk.

Florida tops the list of vulnerable states. It has the greatest population living less than four feet above high tide. Florida has already felt the effects of rising sea levels. Increased flooding has occurred in the southern tip of the state, especially the Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Freshwater aquifers serving southeastern Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties) and the Florida Keys have been contaminated by salt water.

Climate Central has compiled a list of action plans and resources that states and organizations have developed. Some suggestions for how we can adapt to rising sea levels include engineered solutions, like seawalls, levees, and dikes, for the “impossible” places that need it most. High-risk states such as California and New Jersey have created resources of their own.


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