American Cities and the Rising Sea

Sea level rise gives climate change an address.

via American Cities and the Rising Sea : Blog : Climate Central.

Climate Central recently collaborated with researchers at the University of Arizona to produce a map of vulnerabilities to sea level rise in U.S. cities with populations over 50,000.  They found that within these cities 9% of the land is below the 1 meter elevation mark (expected sea level rise this century) and 36% of the land is below 6 meters (expected sea level rise in coming centuries given current trends).

A few of us heard Dr. Ben Strauss, Interim Executive Director of Climate Central, present this work at the Living on the Edge conference in Nantucket last September.  While this collaborative modeling is extremely useful from a climate awareness and general planning perspective, Dr. Strauss acknowledged that the use of digital elevation models could significantly underestimate sea level rise impacts in some areas given the variability in local high tides.  He noted that future studies will be incorporating this local tide information and integrating information on all coastal towns and cities into an interactive map.

Dr. Strauss reported at the conference that he and his collaborators found that it takes surprisingly little time for sea level rise to turn a 100-year flood into a 10-year flood.  In other words, the impacts of a 100-year flood today are remarkably similar to the modeled impacts of a 10-year flood later this century because higher sea levels allow similar flood waters to reach higher ground (even given conservative estimates).  In our work with the Town of Groton (CT) through the USEPA Climate Ready Estuaries program we noted similar trends, and the prospect of increased frequency of such major flooding events had some sobering implications for a significant amount of coastal infrastructure.

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