As global climate change becomes more evident, the likely impacts are being closely studied. More violent weather, more widespread drought, and species extinction are among the negative effects. A rise in sea levels, largely as a result of melting glaciers such as the Greenland ice sheet and polar ice, may be the most significant from an economic perspective. If forceful action is not taken soon, some scientists warn that already-higher sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century. Newly released maps highlight the impact of rising seas on the world’s coastlines.
Look at any political world map, and notice how many big cities are on or within a few miles of a coast. Besides the homes and businesses of hundreds of millions of people, consider what else those cities contain—industries, seaports and airports, transportation infrastructure, cultural monuments, and universities, among other establishments. In the United States, coastal cities include New York, Miami, New Orleans, Tampa, Boston, most of which are just a few feet above sea level. Now consider what will happen to all those places as sea levels continue to rise. They will need to be protected in some way, move, or be submerged.
What might be the economic impact of rising sea levels? Some researchers have calculated the figures. (Economics has been called “the dismal science”—in this case, it’s aptly named.) Flooding in the world’s biggest coastal cities already costs some $6 billion per year. By 2050, that annual cost is estimated at $1 trillion (that’s with a tr, not a b). Coastal cities can take measures to alleviate flooding and reduce the cost, such as levees and movable barriers. Those defenses will require a huge investment, of course—perhaps $50 billion per year through the mid-2000s. Yet people continue to build beach houses and oceanfront resorts in areas where you cannot buy flood insurance.
Image credit: ©NASA/Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets
- Rising Seas
This article explains the alarming assessment of rising sea levels, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy; examine this interactive map titled “If All The Ice Melted” to see what the continents’ coastlines would look like if all the planet’s ice melted. Would your community be under water?
(Source: National Geographic, October 2013)
- These 20 Cities Have the Most to Lose from Rising Sea Levels
What can these flood-prone cities do to reduce the cost of rising sea levels?
(Source: Washington Post, August 20, 2013)
- You’re Going to Get Wet
Check out the graph showing the value of New York City property at risk of flood or hurricane strikes. Graph numbers are in billions of dollars.
(Source: The Economist, June 13, 2013)
- Irreversible Warming Will Cause Sea Levels to Rise for Thousands of Years to Come, New Research Shows
The title says it all; the situation will not improve any time soon.
(Source: Science Daily, October 2, 2012)
- Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer
Use the slider to get a better understanding of rising sea levels. (Site is temporarily unavailable due to partial US government shutdown.)
(Source: NOAA Coastal Services Center; accessed October 1, 2013)