Study Finds Coastal Flooding From Sea Level Rise May Cost $100,000B Annually by 2100
Coastal regions may face massive increases in damages from storm surge flooding over the course of the twenty-first century. According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, global average storm surge damages could increase from about $10-40 billion USD per year today to up to $100,000 billion USD per year by the end of century, if no adaptation action is taken.
The study lead by the Berlin-based think-tank Global Climate Forum (GCF) presents, for the first time, comprehensive global simulation results on future storm surge damages to buildings and infrastructure. Drastic increases in these damages are expected, on one hand, due to rising sea-levels and, on the other hand, due to population and economic growth. Asia and Africa may be particularly hard hit because of their rapidly growing coastal mega-cities, such as Shanghai, Manila or Lagos.
“If we ignore this problem, the consequences will be dramatic,” explained Jochen Hinkel from GCF and the study's lead author. In 2100, up to 600 million people (around five percent of the global population) could be affected by coastal flooding if no adaptation measures are put in place.
“Countries need to take action and invest in coastal protection measures, such as building or raising dikes, amongst other options,” urged Hinkel.
With such protection measures, the projected damages could be reduced to below $80 billion USD per year during the twenty-first century. The researchers found that investments level of $10 to 70 billion USD per year could achieve such a reduction.
Prompt action is needed most in Asia and Africa, where today large parts of the population are already affected by storm surge flooding. Yet even Germany must invest in coastal protection. It is not only dikes that are needed however. Alternative and more flexible coastal protection measures that better fit the natural environmental should also be developed. Examples of such alternatives to dikes are the reintroduction of mangrove forests, the rehabilitation of coastal dunes or artificial oyster banks. Meeting the challenge of adapting to rising sea-levels will not be easy.
used. The shaded areas show the respective uncertainty ranges defined by the maximum and minimum impacts.
“Poor countries and heavily impacted small-island states are not able to make the necessary investments alone," explained Hinkel. "They need international support.”
Adding to the challenge, international finance mechanisms have thus far proved sluggish in mobilizing funds for adapting to climate change, as the debate on adaptation funding at the recent climate conference in Warsaw once again confirmed.
“If we do not reduce greenhouse gases swiftly and substantially, some regions will have to seriously consider relocating significant numbers of people in the longer run,” Hinkel said.
Yet regardless of how much sea-level rise climate change brings, careful long-term regional and urban planning can ensure that development in high-risk flood zones is avoided. This long-term perspective is however a challenge to bring about, as coastal development tends to be dominated by short-term interests of, for example, real-estate and tourism companies, which prefer to build directly at the waterfront.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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