Quantcast
Popular
Union of Concerned Scientists

Sea Level Rise to Flood Major U.S. Cities

By Jessica Corbett

As an iceberg the size of Delaware broke away from an ice shelf in Antarctica Wednesday, scientists released findings that up to 668 U.S. communities could face chronic flooding from rising sea levels by the end of the century.

More than 90 communities are already grappling with "chronic inundation" from sea level rise caused by climate change—meaning they have crossed the threshold for when "flooding becomes unmanageable for people's daily lives," disrupting "people's routines, livelihoods, homes and communities."


When Rising Seas Hit Home, the new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), found that number could nearly double, to 170, over the next two decades.

Coastal sections of Louisiana and Maryland account for the majority of the communities that are currently experiencing heavy flooding, but UCS researchers predict these unmanageable floods will reach the Jersey Shore and Florida's Gulf Coast by mid-century.

By 2100, they calculate 40 to 60 percent of all oceanfront communities on the East and Gulf Coasts, and a growing number of West Coast communities, will be inundated with chronic flooding. At-risk regions include major cities like Boston, Savannah, Fort Lauderdale, Newark and four of New York City's five boroughs.

"We hope this analysis provides a wake-up call to coastal communities—and us as a nation—so we can see this coming and have time to prepare," said Erika Spanger-Siegfried, a UCS senior analyst and co-author of the report, the first study of its kind to examine potential flood risks for the entire coastline of the lower 48 states.

The UCS researchers also considered which cities may be spared from the worst of the flooding if the Paris agreement goals are met. Although Donald Trump withdrew from the climate agreement, many U.S. state and community leaders have committed to upholding it.

"Meeting the long term goals of the Paris agreement would offer coastal communities facing chronic flooding their best chance to limit the harms of sea level rise," said Rachel Cleetus, UCS's lead economist. The UCS researchers considered which cities may be spared from the worst of the flooding if the Paris agreement goals are met.

Although "large-scale reductions in global warming emissions," which are among the Paris agreement's main goals, "may slow the rate at which sea level rise is accelerating and save many communities," the report noted for many communities, it's too little, too late.

"For hundreds of other cities and towns," it said, "increased flooding is inevitable, and adaptation is now essential."

Some communities are already making efforts to address flooding by raising roads, raising or constructing sea walls and installing pumping systems. Miami Beach has started work on a major flood prevention project that is expected to cost the city hundreds of millions over the next several years. Although Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has been lauded for embracing climate science and taking action to address the flooding, his plan has also been criticized by climate deniers and experts alike.

"There's no playbook for this," Levine said to the Miami New Times. "There's no one saying, 'Here, mayor, follow these 20 easy steps and you'll be OK."

The scientific community is increasingly looking for ways to engage with policymakers and the public. The UCS report made a number of policy recommendations based on its analysis, and this week, a group of more than 300 scientists from around the world are meeting in New York City to review current sea-level science and beginning discussions about collaborating on future research.

"We have a special responsibility to help society respond to the climate issue," said Guy Brasseur of the World Climate Research Programme, one of the conference organizers, urging the conference attendees to invest heavily in sea-level rise research.

But even with access to robust scientific information about these issues, environmental policies can take a backseat when certain social issues are more politically convenient, or in communities without the financial means to develop and implement massive prevention projects like the one in Miami Beach.

More than half of the 170 communities most at-risk for flooding over the next two decades encompass socioeconomically vulnerable neighborhoods, the UCS report noted—"similar to the proportion of today's chronically inundated communities."

The Eastern Shore of Maryland, one of the regions currently experiencing some of the worst chronic flooding, "is home to a large elderly population on fixed incomes and a large African American population, two groups that have traditionally had fewer resources to cope with environmental disasters and change," the report noted.

Report authors also acknowledged that these communities will require more assistance to address rising flood concerns:

"This analysis brings attention to the fact that these communities will need more resources and more capacity in order to prepare for the impacts of sea level rise. Fair solutions will be those that include considerations of socioeconomic vulnerability and are implemented equitably across communities."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Popular
iStock

How Trump Could Undermine the U.S. Solar Boom

By Llewelyn Hughes and Jonas Meckling

Tumbling prices for solar energy have helped stoke demand among U.S. homeowners, businesses and utilities for electricity powered by the sun. But that could soon change.

President Donald Trump—whose proposed 2018 budget would slash support for alternative energy—may get a new opportunity to undermine the solar power market by imposing duties that could increase the cost of solar power high enough to choke off the industry's growth.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Richard Branson's Necker Island was hit by two hurricanes in two weeks. Richard Branson/Instagram

Richard Branson to Donald Trump: The Whole World Knows Climate Change is Real

Virgin Group founder and longtime environmentalist Richard Branson, who faced two damaging hurricanes in a row from his home in the British Virgin Islands, called out President Donald Trump's refusal to accept the science of climate change.

"Look, you can never be 100 percent sure about links," the British billionaire said Tuesday on CNN's "New Day" when asked about the correlation between global warming and the recent string of major hurricanes to hit the Carribean and the United States.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois. Prison ecology advocates are celebrating the launch of a new prisons layer to the EPA's environmental justice mapping tool, but still hope the EPA will expand inspection and enforcement activities related to prisons. Rw2 / Wikipedia

EPA Adds Prison Locations to Its Environmental Justice Mapping Tool

By Zoe Loftus-Farren

As an environmental reporter, it's not every day that I get to communicate good news—the state of our environment often feels pretty bleak. But today, at least, there is a victory to celebrate: Thanks to the persistence of a small group of prison ecology advocates, the support of their allies, and the assistance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), prisoners rights and environmental justice advocates have a new tool to add to their activist arsenal.

This summer, the EPA added a "prisons layer" to its Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool. Known as EJSCREEN for short, the tool can be used by the public to assess possible exposure to pollutants that might be present in the environment (i.e., land, air and water) where they live or work.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Kevin Vallely

'Rowing the Northwest Passage' Chronicles An Expedition Through the Changing North

By Kevin Vallely

In 2013 four adventurers set out on an 80-day rowboat mission through the Arctic's rapidly melting Northwest Passage. Their journey brought them face to face with the changing seas in a world of climate change. In this excerpt from adventurer Kevin Vallely's new book about the expedition, Rowing the Northwest Passage (Greystone Books), we also see how climate change has affected some of the people the team met along their journey:

An elderly woman walks toward us from the road. Tuktoyaktuk, in the Northwest Territories, is a sizable town by Arctic standards, with a full-time population of 954, but it's small enough that the bulk of the town likely knows we're here. The woman is smiling when she reaches us.

"I saw you coming in," she says. "Where you guys come from?" "We're from Vancouver," I say, my mouth still half full of food. "We started our trip in Inuvik nine days ago." Her name is Eileen Jacobsen and she's an Elder in town. She and her husband, Billy, run a sightseeing business. "You should come up to the house in the morning and have some coffee," she tells us.

Our night's sleep in the Arctic Joule is fitful; our overindulgence runs through all of us like a thunderstorm. By seven in the morning, even with both hatches open, lighting a match in the cabin would blow us out like dirt from that Siberian crater. The roar of the Jetboil pulls me out. Frank's already up, down jacket on, preparing coffee. "You like a cup?"

It's still too early to drop by Eileen Jacobsen's house, so we walk into town on the dusty main road, our ears assaulted by a cacophony of barking dogs. Dirt is the surface of choice for roads and runways in Arctic communities, as any inflexible surface like concrete would be shredded by the annual freeze–thaw cycle. Most of the town runs the length of a thin finger of land, with the ocean on one side and a protected bay on the other. About halfway down the peninsula, a cluster of wooden crosses rests in a high grass clearing, facing west. We heard about this graveyard in Inuvik. Because of melting permafrost and wave action, it's eroding into the sea, and community members have lined the shore with large rocks to forestall its demise. This entire peninsula will face this threat in the coming years. There's not much land here to hold back a hungry ocean.

We notice an elderly man in a blue winter jacket staring at us a short distance away. He's sitting outside a small wooden house and smiles as we approach. "You guys must be the rowers," he says. "Too windy to be out rowing." His jacket hood is pulled tight over his ball cap and he dons a pair of wraparound shades with yellow lenses that would better suit a racing cyclist than a village Elder. His name is Fred Wolki, and he's lived in Tuk for the last fifty years. "I grew up on my father's boat until they sent me to school in 1944, then I came here."

His father, Jim Wolki, is a well-known fox trapper who transported his pelts from Banks Island to Herschel Island aboard his ship the North Star of Herschel Island. Interestingly, we had the Arctic Joule moored right beside the North Star at the Vancouver Maritime Museum before we left. Built in San Francisco in 1935, the North Star plied the waters of the Beaufort Sea for over thirty years, her presence in Arctic waters playing an important role in bolstering Canadian Arctic sovereignty through the Cold War.

"We're curious if things have changed much here since you were a boy," Frank says.

"Well … it's getting warmer now," Fred says, shaking his head. He gestures out to the water speaking slowly and pausing for long moments between thoughts. "Right up to the 1960s … there was old ice along the coast … The ice barely moved … It was grounded along the coastline." He looks out over the shoreline, moving his arm back and forth. "They started to fade away slowly in the 1960s … icebergs … They were huge, like big islands … They were so high, like the land at the dew Line station … over there." He points to the radar dome of the long decommissioned Distant Early Warning Line station that sits on a rise of land just east of us. "It's been twenty years since we've seen one in Tuk." There's no sentimentality or anger in Fred's voice; he's just telling us his story. "It's getting warmer now … Global warming is starting to take its toll … All the permafrost is starting to melt … Water is starting to eat away our land."

I listen to his words, amazed. There's no agenda here, no vested interest, no job creation or moneymaking—just an elderly man bearing witness to his changing world.

Excerpted from Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea by Kevin Vallely, published September 2017 by Greystone Books. Condensed and reproduced with permission from the publisher.

Sponsored
www.youtube.com

Hundreds Dead in Mexico After Earthquake Strikes on Anniversary of Devastating 1985 Quake

In Mexico, a massive 7.1-magnitude quake struck 100 miles southeast of Mexico City Tuesday, collapsing dozens of buildings around the capital city and trapping schoolchildren, workers and residents beneath the rubble.

At least 217 people are dead, and hundreds more are missing. Among the dead are least 21 students at a primary school in Mexico City and 15 worshipers who died during a Catholic mass when the earthquake triggered an eruption at a volcano southeast of the city.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Fourth St. sign under water in San Francisco. Scott Schiller/Flickr

San Francisco Becomes First Major U.S. City to Sue Fossil Fuel Industry Over Costs of Climate Change

San Francisco and Oakland are suing Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell—the five biggest investor-owned fossil fuel producers in the world—over the costs of climate change.

The two Californian cities join the counties of Marin, San Mateo and San Diego and the city of Imperial Beach that have taken similar legal action in recent months, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
www.youtube.com

Climate Alliance States Show Us What Real Leadership Looks Like

By Luis Martinez and Kit Kennedy

In a forceful show of climate leadership, Governors Andrew Cuomo (NY), Jerry Brown (CA), and Jay Inslee (WA) and former Secretary of State John Kerry came together in New York City Wednesday as part of Climate Week to celebrate the progress and growth of the U.S. Climate Alliance, the bipartisan coalition that has grown to 14 states dedicated to meeting the Paris agreement climate goal. The coalition was founded by Cuomo, Brown and Inslee after President Trump announced the U.S. intent to withdraw from Paris.

President Trump may prefer to pretend that climate change isn't real—Gov. Cuomo quipped that the Trump administration is in "the State of Denial"—but these leaders detailed the extraordinary strides they're making, in the absence of White House leadership, to slash greenhouse gas emissions and grow their economies at the same time. For New Yorkers, it's exciting to see Cuomo's leadership on clean energy and climate continue to accelerate, from setting strong renewable energy goals, to a successful push with other Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative states to further slash carbon emissions, to banning fracking.

Keep reading... Show less
www.facebook.com

Hurricane Maria Devastates Puerto Rico

By Andy Rowell

As new Hurricane Maria brings devastation to Puerto Rico, the governor of the island, Ricardo Rossello, has asked Donald Trump to declare the U.S. territory a disaster zone.

He has said that Maria could be the most damaging hurricane to hit the country in more than 100 years.

With maximum recorded wind speeds of 140 mph and rainfall of up to 25 inches or even higher, Mike Brennan, a senior hurricane specialist from the U.S. National Hurricane Center has also warned locals of flash-flooding and "punishing" rainfall. He added that the storm would remain "very dangerous" for the next couple of days.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox