A new study on climate change projects that by the end of the century three times as many people in the United States will be at risk from rising sea levels compared to previous estimates.
The study published in the journal Nature Climate Change argues that past predictions of how coastal communities will be affected by climate change used current population data rather than figuring in population growth over the 21st century in high-risk areas.
When projected growth patterns are taken into consideration, the numbers for displaced and affected people effectively triple to 13.1 million, based on projections of a 1.8 metre rise in sea levels by the end of the century. Oft-cited predictions put the likely rise in sea levels to be between 0.8 and 2.0 m, with others pointing out that significant losses to the ice shield over Greenland could mean up to a 7.0 m rise.
Led by Matthew E. Hauer of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, the study claims that owing to the wide variety in topography along the U.S. coasts, sea level rise will be “highly regionalized,” affecting some areas much harder than their others. Tyrrell and Hyde counties in North Carolina, for example, and Monroe, Florida, are said to see “catastrophic” impacts with a 1.8 m rise in sea levels. The state of Florida is projected to account for about half of the total at-risk populations.
Researchers argue that contingency strategies must be adaptive to the localized impact of sea level rise. “Owing to geographic variability, one-size-fits-all national approaches for tackling sea level rise, such as recent changes to the US federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, could prove problematic or inadequate as adaptation strategies alone,” say the study’s authors.
So far, response strategies have included calls for investment in better flood protection infrastructure along with plans for the “managed retreat” of populations from at-risk areas. The latter strategy looks to prove particularly challenging, as coastal regions of the United States are currently witnessing the greatest population growth in the country. A new report shows that real estate in south Florida is currently exploding, even as climate experts predict rising sea levels are likely to hit the region hard.
With its 165 miles of canals, Fort Lauderdale is particularly vulnerable to a rise in sea levels, already experiencing yearly flooding of seawater into town. And yet the city is currently experiencing a building boom, with expectations of adding about 50,000 people over the next 15 years.
According to South Miami mayor Philip Stoddard, the trend in south Florida will continue unabated until disaster strikes. “My own prediction is that there will be some natural event -a hurricane, a big storm surge- [that] is going to shake people, just shake their confidence, and some people are going to start moving out,” Stoddard says.
In Canada, recent news has the province of British Columbia offering up $16.6 million in flood protection funding for Richmond, B.C., to upgrade four pump stations. Richmond has been identified as one of the highest-risk areas of the province for flooding due to rising sea levels.