Climate: Rising sea level will drive coastal impacts

Sea level is rising, and will continue to rise for centuries even if we cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Sea level is rising, and will continue to rise for centuries even if we cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Threats will increase regardless of hurricane activity

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Increased damage to coastal property from rising sea levels is all but certain, according to a team of top researchers who urged a holistic approach to managing coastal systems. Regardless of changes in storm activity, rising sea levels will become the dominant driver of flooding and coastal damage, their study found.

“The potential for sea-level rise to dramatically change the landscape is an understudied aspect of coastal flooding,” said Jennifer Irish, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering with the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. “For example, shoreline erosion, barrier-island degradation, and new tidal inlet formation — these sedimentary changes could lead to catastrophic changes in hurricane flood risk in some areas,” Irish said.

“We reviewed just three of the physical factors — tropical cyclone climatology, sea-level rise, and shoreline change,” she said. “If we look at them separately, we don’t see how they are interconnected. But if we pull back to look at the whole picture, we stand a better chance of protecting our homes, roadways, energy and water networks, and the most critical and expensive infrastructure along the coastlines.”

The research team was led by Jonathan D. Woodruff, an assistant professor of sedimentology and coastal processes at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with Irish and Suzana Camargo, a Lamont research professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. The findings are published in the journal Nature.

The review suggested that it is practical to focus on approaches that integrate vertical and landward retreat — meaning planners should consider elevated structures and building further inland — with other engineering and management measures, including sediment management.

Global sea level is expected to rise about one meter by 2100. According to a simulation study the researchers reviewed, floods currently to be considered 100-year events in New York City could become three- to 20-year events.

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