In Coastal Cities, Sea Level Rise Puts Infrastructure in Jeopardy

In Coastal Cities, Sea Level Rise Puts Infrastructure in Jeopardy

Over the past 30 years, Amsterdam has worked to redevelop a swathe of its coastline called the Eastern Docklands, installing everything from high-density housing to concert halls to the architecturally innovative NEMO Science Museum -- now, though, sea level rise is putting the city’s infrastructure at risk.

Amsterdam is situated about six and a half feet below sea level, and a sophisticated flood management system consisting of locks, sluices, and pumping stations has kept the city from going underwater since the 19th century.

But rapidly rising sea levels driven by climate change will test the limits of this infrastructure. Maarten Ouboter, a hydrologist at the city’s water grid management company Waternet, told Bloomberg.

TED: Why isn’t the Netherlands underwater? | Stefan Al, March 24, 2020.

The B1M1: The Sea Wall That Saved a Nation, July 22, 2022.

Al Jazeera: The Netherlands is under serious rising sea-level threat, January 25, 2021.

CNA: The Netherlands | Living on the water’s edge | Climate change special, September 14, 2019.

Why This Matters

Less than 16% of the world’s coastal regions remain intact, and rising sea levels as a result of widespread glacial melt are only intensifying storm surges and high tide levels in vulnerable areas worldwide. A recent study found the Denman Glacier in Antarctica is melting at a rate of 78.8 billion tonnes a year. This will have ripple effects across the globe -- if the entire glacier collapses, sea levels will rise up to 1.5 meters. Meanwhile, satellite data of the Greenland ice sheet and new analysis of the Helheim Glacier shows how crucial it is to track sea level accurately, so vulnerable seaside communities -- like Amsterdam’s Eastern Dockyards -- can properly prepare.

DW: Can we stop ice sheets from melting?, September 9, 2022.

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

PBS: Scientists measure how quickly crucial Antarctica glacier is melting, July 25, 2022.

MSNBC: 'Doomsday Glacier’ | Experts Raise Alarms About Cracking Antarctic Ice Shelf, December 30, 2021.

Bloomberg: Sea Levels Are Rising Faster Than Most Pessimistic Forecasts, February 2, 2021.

The US Prepares for Sea Level Rise

Amsterdam is not the only area facing the threat of flooding -- in the next 30 years, the US coasts will see a foot of sea level rise on average. In California, for example, experts estimate that between $8 billion and $10 billion of infrastructure could be underwater by 2050, while an additional $6 billion to $10 billion worth of construction could be in a high-tide hazard zone. Already, transit authorities in the state have needed to pause passenger service for Amtrak and Metrolink rail lines along the Pacific due to flooding, prompting many to push for track relocation further inland.

PBS: Report shows devastating economic impact of rising sea levels along American coast, September 14, 2022.

ABC: NOAA report on US sea level rise a 'wake-up call’, August 3, 2022.

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

Cities across the country are making plans for how to cope. The city of San Diego has undertaken a $300 million project to relocate its seaside train tracks further inland. Meanwhile, San Francisco is starting a year-long study that aims to assess seven possible strategies to mitigate flood risks from storms and rising sea levels.

In North Carolina, the Department of Transportation is permanently removing an iconic stretch of the Outer Banks highway known as the "S-Curves” due to severe flood risk. Still, developers continue to construct expensive properties in the area, while coastal homeowners grow increasingly frustrated over the lack of protection provided by lawmakers.

NBC: How North Carolina’s Outer Banks Are Shoring Up Against Climate Change, October 17, 2022.

USA TODAY: North Carolina beachfront house collapses into the ocean amid flooding, May 11, 2022.

Florida has to contend with the reality of sea level rise as well, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Ian. The severe storm resulted in at least $65 to $100 billion worth of damages, and left thousands of people missing.

CBS Miami: Miami-Dade Will Be 60% Underwater By 2060, Warns Univ. Of Miami Scientist, September 25, 2022.

CNBC: Coastal communities losing billions in tax revenue to rising sea levels, October 13, 2022.

PBS: Chesapeake Bay Island Towns Disappearing to Sea Level Rise, August 1, 2022.

CNBC: How cities are defending themselves against more extreme weather, October 4, 2022.