As sea levels rise at ever accelerating rates, coastal communities like Seaside, New Jersey prepare for the inevitable, while lawmakers and experts fear it won’t be enough.
Sea levels have already risen seven to eight inches since 1900, with the last 3 inches of sea level rise (SLR) occurring within the last quarter century. According to a new report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sea level is expected to continue rising at an accelerating rate through the next century as the earth continues to heat up.
If the Greenland Ice Sheet melts it could contribute ~7m of sea level rise, enough water to refill the US Great Lakes 115 times. Melting has been ongoing since the 1990s & is accelerating: 2,200 gigatons of water has been lost between 2010-2018#WorldEnvironmentDay #ClimateChange pic.twitter.com/onGgMxwwRs
— Simon D. A. Clark (@Sunkensie) June 5, 2019
The report, done by researchers Jonathan L. Bamber, Michael Oppenheimer, Robert E. Kopp, Willy P. Aspinall, and Roger M. Cooke, projects that under a “high emissions scenario,” SLR could exceed two meters by the end of the century. That is more than twice the amount projected in the upper range of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report.
“Some people would think if the temperature goes up half a degree and you get a 5-inch sea level increase, then another half degree should be another 5 inches,” University of Essex Associate Professor Gina Yannitell Reinhardt told The Globe Post. “It doesn’t work that way because it starts to meet certain thresholds … Every half degree hotter it gets, things start to be affected quite drastically.”
— WMO | OMM (@WMO) June 3, 2019
While Bamber et al’s projections fall outside of the IPCC’s likely range of SLR, it suggests limiting the focus to the likely range could be misleading and lead to “poor evaluation of the true risks.”
The report found SLR exceeding 2 meters by 2100 could result in the loss of 1.79 million square kilometers of land and “critical regions of food production” as well as the displacement of 187 million people.
According to Reinhardt, one impact of SLR could be people who live on the coast catching shrimp or a particular kind of fish would no longer be able to catch certain species. The repercussions would extend to the restaurant and tourism industries as well as consumers who use and buy these fish.
“In the U.S., that’s going to transfer a lot of seafood purchasing to seafood that is caught overseas,” Reinhardt said.
Bracing for Impacts
SLR is already impacting coastal communities and some are taking steps to prepare and cope as the oceans continue to rise, according to Dana Archer Dolan, an adjunct professor at George Mason University.
Archer pointed to Seaside Heights as one example, where seawater famously engulfed a beachside rollercoaster when the New Jersey town was hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“One of the things they’re doing immediately is raising the sand dunes in front of the houses along the beach,” Dolan told The Globe Post.
Dolan said the federal government funded the construction of the dunes through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) but each coastal towns has different rules and laws on how high sand dunes can be. Seaside residents want easy access to the beach and a view unobstructed by high sand dunes, according to Dolan.
“It’s been a really long process for the Army Corps of Engineers to coordinate across all of these town boundaries,” Dolan said. “If you protect one town with a really high sand dune, it doesn’t really help because the water can just go around the end and wipe out the houses on the edges.”
“Generally speaking, there’s just not enough robust funding at the federal level to help communities with their pre-disaster mitigation planning,” Beth Hammon, a legislative assistant for Rouda’s office told The Globe Post.
“[The Coastal Communities Adaptation Act] is to jumpstart programs that allow states and communities access to funding that will help them develop those plans. It’s not a one size fits all. It allows states to develop plans that suit their needs.”
According to Reinhardt, there are other obstacles to adaptation besides federal funding; namely, a lack of urgency.
“The biggest obstacle is that people don’t believe it’s a problem, and because they don’t there’s no demand for federal or state funding,” Reinhardt said. “The fact is if communities demanded it enough and were committed to coming up with their own solutions, federal funding would be a bonus, but it wouldn’t be the biggest obstacle.”
Still, the Coastal Communities Adaptation Act faces challenges of its own. Despite having 31 cosponsors, it is currently stuck in legislative limbo.
“It’s been referred to committee at this point, so we’re kinda just waiting,” Hammon said. “It’s one of our infrastructure priorities, so we’re hopeful to see movement.”