The study said that up to 13.1 million Americans along the coast could be forced from their homes by the end of the century because of global sea level rise, which means that far more people will be impacted than previous analyses have suggested.
The sea-level rise, which scientists primarily attribute to human activity, is one of the most serious ways climate change will impact communities around the world. These levels are already on the rise, but if the icy poles continues to melt — they currently hold the majority of the world’s fresh water — the change will be dramatic. We can see this happening already with the melting glaciers of Greenland:
If the entire glacier in the northeast of Greenland melted, then global sea levels would rise by an astonishing 46 centimeters (18 inches). Unfortunately, it seems the rate at which this glacier, known as Zachariæ Isstrøm, is sliding into the ocean and breaking apart has dramatically increased since 2012. At its current rate, it is losing a worrying 4.5 billion tonnes (5 billion tons) of ice per year. The researchers think that the glacier is being dealt a double blow, with a warming ocean melting it from underneath while a warming atmosphere is thawing it from the top.
Over the coming decades, Florida could face the most risk, with up to 6 million residents bearing the brunt of this change. One million people each in California and Louisiana also could be impacted. Moreover, the flooding caused by a 6-foot rise in sea level could affect more than 80 percent of the people living in America’s three most vulnerable communities: Monroe in the Florida Keys, and Hyde and Tyrrell in North Carolina.
Tyrell and Hyde Counties are home to abundant nature preserves on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, while Monroe County is located at the southwestern tip of Florida, encompassing a swath of Everglades National Park as well as the Florida Keys. People living in these areas will suffer “catastrophic impacts” by 2100 if steps aren’t taken to address the issue, according to ZME Science.
The study, led by the University of Georgia’s Mathew Hauer, calculated these numbers by taking a close look at all 319 coastal counties in continental U.S. and projecting each county’s expected population growth and sea level rise.
Hauer said in a statement:
The impact projections are up to three times larger than current estimates, which significantly underestimate the effect of sea level rise in the United States. In fact, there are 31 counties where more than 100,000 residents could be affected by 6 feet of sea level rise.
Recent studies show that sea levels are rising rapidly, probably faster than at any time in the last 28 centuries. The resulting tidal flooding, which is also becoming more frequent, is already making life difficult for people living in low-lying areas, particularly in South America. While sea levels have risen and fallen significantly in the past, scientists maintain they have been fairly constant throughout the last several thousand years.
Hauer also added that we “could see a huge-scale migration if we don’t deploy any protection against sea level rise.” As noted in The Guardian, “Should these people need to move away from the coast, rather than be protected by new sea defenses, the population movement would be on a scale similar to the Great Migration, a long-term shift of African Americans from southern to northern states during the 20th century.”
Hauer and his team believes that the data can help policymakers to develop practical strategies to protect coastal areas against the threat of rising water level. But he cautions that adaptation strategies “are costly, and these are areas of especially rapid population growth, so the longer we wait to implement adaptation measures the more expensive they become.”
This is not a matter to take lightly. It is not only America’s economy, but millions of lives globally, which are at stake here. All we can do is hope policymakers decide sooner rather than later to develop strategies to combat the rising level of the sea.
More information: Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2961
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