One Foot of Sea Level Rise Coming for US Coasts

One Foot of Sea Level Rise Coming for US Coasts

Over the next 30 years, the US coast will experience a foot of sea level rise on average, according to the latest science from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Accelerated by climate change, that’s the same amount of rise seen over the previous 100 years. "It's like history is repeating itself, but in fast-forward," William Sweet, the report's co-author and a sea level rise expert with the NOAA, told NPR.

This latest report is the "most concrete and certain sea level projections ever published for the US," NPR wrote in their coverage. The areas expected to see the highest rise include the Gulf Coast, especially from Texas to Mississippi where the fossil fuel extraction industry is collapsing the land, and the mid-Atlantic region around Annapolis, MD and Norfolk, VA.

CNN: 'Mind boggling' - See how rising sea levels will affect the coasts, February 17, 2022.

Why This Matters

Even a few inches of water can cause extensive damage, making roads and sidewalks inaccessible, ruining agricultural crops, and damaging infrastructure. A higher sea level increases the risk of flooding from heavy rains and ups the size of a storm surge during more intense weather like hurricanes. With climate change causing heavier but sporadic rainfalls and intensifying hurricane strength, the water will amplify. While human-built flood walls and dikes and natural barriers like marshes and mangrove forests provide some protection, some places will need to think about retreat.

"The coastline is going to move," Andrea Dutton, a sea level rise researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told Inside Climate News.

Guardian: Climate change is making floods worse - here's how, October 19, 2021.

Coastal Zones Are Industrial Zones

Coastal ecosystems are great at naturally handling changes in water. But only 15.5% of coastal regions worldwide remain "intact," according to a University of Queensland study released last week. The industrialization of the coasts is a double whammy: it removes a layer of protection from rising seas while putting critical infrastructures at risk, including drinking water systems for some cities. And even the systems that are intact are threatened by rising seas -- some research has projected that sea level rise could kill existing mangrove forests.

Other examples include the shoreline of the Brazilian town Atafona, which is among the 4% of global coasts shirking five meters or more each year -- a pattern created in part by human activities like mining and agriculture, which have altered the flow of the town’s river. And the UK's coast is projected to lose 7,000 coastal properties over the next century due to erosion.

Dig Deeper

The NOAA mapping tool shows how your neighborhood will flood with each foot of sea level rise.

NOAA: Sea Level Rise Report Release, February 15, 2022.

AFP: The Brazil resort town disappearing into the sea, February 14, 2022.

ITV: UK not prepared for coastal erosion, September 24, 2021.