News

Study: Rising Seas Threaten Millions of US Homes

A bicyclist makes his way past a stranded taxi on a flooded New York City Street as Tropical Storm Irene passes through the city, August 28, 2011. A global warming-fueled sea level rise over the next century could flood millions in the US, according to a
A bicyclist makes his way past a stranded taxi on a flooded New York City Street as Tropical Storm Irene passes through the city, August 28, 2011. A global warming-fueled sea level rise over the next century could flood millions in the US, according to a
Tom Banse

Small island nations, such as the Maldives and Kiribati, raised the alarm first. Now larger and more populated places are assessing their vulnerability to sea level rise caused by climate change. A new study suggests millions of American homes could be inundated over the next century. Recognizing the change is one thing, though, and taking action and deciding who pays is another matter.

The latest projections of the impact sea level rise will have on coastal communities appear in the journal Environmental Research Letters.  The study authors - from the non-profit Climate Central and University of Arizona - calculated how many people in the United States live less than one meter above the high tide line. And how many is that? Close to 2 million homes sheltering 3.7 million Americans could be flooded by rising seas. The biggest concentrations of vulnerable homes are in Florida, followed by Louisiana, coastal California, and then New York and New Jersey.

Nate Mantua is co-director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. He was not involved in the Climate Central study. He said the study’s authors used a novel combination of high resolution elevation, population, and tidal datasets - but didn’t factor in that the rate of sea level rise can differ from place to place.

"They didn't actually consider any specific future sea level rise scenario. Instead, they are using a one-meter increase as a reference and asking how many people would be vulnerable to a sea level rise of one meter. They didn't actually say that's our scenario for 2100."

Other studies have calculated how high the seas could rise regionally due to melting glaciers, disappearing ice caps and the simple expansion in volume of water as it gets warmer. Right now, the world's oceans are rising at an average rate of about 3 millimeters per year. One meter is at the higher end of the range for the end of this century. But Mantua points out there is a great deal of local variation.  For starters, the land you live on may be sinking or rising ever so slightly depending on underlying geology.

"You can have this different relative sea level just because the land is not staying still. It's moving. Different parts of the coast are moving up or down at different rates," said Mantua.

There are numerous examples of coastal cities and provinces that have completed vulnerability assessments to rising sea levels. San Diego, New York City and British Columbia, Canada, are three that have done so. Examples of places that have taken some concrete action in response, however, are much harder to find. In the port city of Aberdeen, Washington, public works director Larry Bledsoe thought up an affordable defense. He's recommending the city council progressively raise the minimum elevation of ground floors in new construction.

"It seems prudent to make small adjustments now incrementally before the flood is upon us," said Bledsoe.

Another example from western Washington State: A couple of years ago, Nisqually Wildlife Refuge managers considered sea level rise when designing new dikes to protect freshwater wetlands. The new dikes have an extra wide base so they can more easily be made higher in coming decades.  

Margaret Davidson, coast services director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said coping with rising waters requires difficult choices. She looks to the Dutch for confirmation, "because after all, they're been holding back the sea for nearly a thousand years."

"Even the Dutch in their Building with Nature initiative recognize you cannot engineer your way out of everything. We can only save those places that are economically or politically significant. Then we'll have to look at managed retreat and other options for the places that are less so important," said Davidson.

"It's a bit like the options open to the military during a war. We can defend or we can retreat. Both are not very palatable options," she said.

John Clague, an expert on sea level change at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, said holding back the waters or relocating inland are both "very, very costly" options.

"Where the money is going to come from, I don't think anyone knows because it's a large amount of money. You know, it's outside the ability, I think, of most communities to deal with this problem, most urban communities in coastal areas," said Clague.

Clague worries about signs that indicate sea level rise is accelerating. His home province of British Columbia is telling its local jurisdictions to prepare for an average rise of about 1 meter over the next century.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Daave
March 19, 2012 12:33 PM
desalt the water and pipe inland for agricultural irrigation..

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs