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Are You Paying Attention to Sea Level Rise?

The world turns its attention to coastal flooding whenever natural disasters like hurricanes or tsunamis strike. Unfortunately, few people remain aware of the severity of the threat to coastal settlements from climate change. Warm, rising sea levels are overtaking the world’s most densely populated areas. Flood control techniques like sea walls and barriers might slow the process, but as with every problem posed by climate change, unless we curb our emissions, our land will be lost to the sea.

Tide goes in; tide goes out:

“Tide goes in; tide goes out, never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that.” – Bill O’Reilly.  (Yes. He really said that. Perhaps we should have added it to our list of 10 Environmental Quotes you Won’t Believe Were Said).

Anyway, let me explain that.

Ocean tides cycle between high and low levels daily, and they always have. The earth’s rotation and gravitational pull of the moon cause the familiar high and low tides:

Both the moon and sun influence tidal changes on the earth. The highest tides occur when the sun and moon align. Floods around the world are becoming increasingly common during high tides.

Both the moon and sun influence tidal changes on the earth. The highest tides occur when the sun and moon align. Floods around the world are becoming increasingly common during high tides.

Extreme high tides occur several times a year when the moon is closest to the earth. When this happens, flooding is most likely to cause damage along the coast. Sea level rise is expected to make things much worse, if not apocalyptic in some places.

Sea level rise makes high tides higher:

The Union of Concerned Scientists tells us that the global sea has risen about eight inches since 1880. Rising sea levels are attributed to burning fossil fuels for energy, which emits the greenhouse gases that disrupt Earth’s climate.  The rate of sea level rise has doubled since 1998, and unfortunately, it shows no signs of slowing down.

Climate change is causing sea levels to rise in two ways:

  • Ice caps and glaciers are melting. Warming and expanding seas are melting the ice caps at both the North and South poles, adding massive quantities of extra water to the ocean. Melting ice caps and glaciers are the primary culprit of sea level rise.
  • Warm water expands. The sea traps most (about 90%) of the heat from anthropogenic climate change. The warmer the seawater becomes, the more it expands.

Floods are worse than ever:

Even though floods have always been a fact of costal life, people and property once adapted to occasional storm surges and extreme tides are not prepared to withstand modern flood events. Coastal communities are now subject to higher insurance rates and stronger building codes. Worsening floods are eroding coastlines faster than ever. Some communities could become uninhabitable in only a few decades.

Storm surge is getting worse:

Storm surge, or rising water associated with severe weather systems, is the worst type of coastal flooding. Extreme storm surge causes deaths, destroys property, and erodes land.  Hurricanes, tropical storms, and other extreme weather events are strengthening due to warming seas. This means severe storm surges will continue to batter coastlines.

Places all over the world are sinking:

Erosion is washing away land at unprecedented rates.  In the United States, the Chesapeake Bay, Mississippi Delta, and Eastern Seaboard are all retreating and threatening established communities. Cities around the world, especially Venice, Italy; Shanghai, China; Alexandria, Egypt; and Tokyo, Japan, are in serious danger. Low-lying islands like The Maldives, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, are shrinking.

What do we do?

Can you put a price tag on the homes of billions of people? That’s a serious question the “sinking” cities of the world are facing. Is it more cost effective and safer to move inland, or build barriers and seawalls to keep the ocean at bay? Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy clarified the consequences of climate change for the world, and some towns on the coast are moving inland already.

Transitioning away from fossil fuels and other pollutants won’t be easy at first. Change can be difficult, especially when the world is so dependent on coal, oil, and natural gas. But, isn’t it worth the effort to avoid moving the “Big Easy,” historic Venice, or New York City? These places are priceless.

We can’t control the ocean, but we can control pollution, and that could save our coasts from sinking. The world needs to work together to do everything in its power to make sure that tide doesn’t come in and not go out.

 

 

Related Articles:

U.S. and China Make a Climate Deal: Thanks Obama!
Energy-Efficient States: Where Does Yours Rank?
Snow Swallows Buffalo: Because, Climate Change!

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