Coasts in peril plan ahead for rising seas

February 20, 2012 by Kerry Sheridan
A tugboat moves a boat across the Manhattan harbor in 2009 in New York City. Scientists warn that by the end of this century, the sea level along North America's west coast will rise by about a meter due to global warming and melting arctic glaciers.

Scientists warn that by the end of this century, the sea level along North America's west coast will rise by about a meter due to global warming and melting arctic glaciers.

That presents a scenario that few people in the world's coastal and want to think about -- the end of their water's edge way of life, their homes flooded, their farming fields drenched and rendered useless.

But one coastal port in British Columbia has begun to plan for this grim future with the help of scientists who created computer images that show exactly what their town will look like when it is inundated with water.

"In our work we try to visualize four different worlds," said David Flanders, a landscape architect and research scientist at the University of British Columbia.

Those include building larger sea walls and dykes to hold the water back, crafting to absorb some of the tides and reinforce the shores, moving entire towns inland, or building everything higher by raising homes on stilts and elevating roads.

Flanders said his team has been working with a municipality called Delta, home to one of metro Vancouver's largest industrial ports and a thriving population of 100,000 people, where tensions have mounted over the prospect of the coming sea change.

By creating digital images of what the future might look like -- some images are at www.aaas.ubc.ca/media-resources/photos -- Flanders said residents have been better able to decide how to move forward.

"It has helped community members decide what kind of world they want to live in in the future," Flanders told the American Association of the Advancement of Science meeting in Vancouver.

In his experience working with Delta since 2006, Flanders said he has found that the first impulse of locals and officials is to want to erect higher walls to protect areas with lots of homes.

But eventually, they agree that "some kind of mix is going to be ideal," he said.

The costs of recrafting modern life along the water's edge are certain to be enormous, with hundreds of millions of people affected by sea-level rise in communities worldwide.

"Depending on what we are trying to protect, protection strategy can be really expensive," said Denise Reed, a professor at the University of New Orleans.

She told reporters that after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of Louisiana's coast in 2005, rebuilding the levees around New Orleans cost more than $14 billion.

Faced with that sort of price tag, many people go into a state of denial, questioning if the sea will really ever get so high.

But while the creeping increases may seem tiny -- scientists estimate the worldwide rise annually is about 3.3 millimeters per year, subject to regional variations -- the evidence is already here, experts said.

"It is a small amount... however that rate is higher than at any point in the last 5,000 years. We are in uncharted territory," said researcher professor John Clague of Simon Fraser University.

Clague said he and colleagues use the latest satellite technology combined with global tidal records to assess the changes over decades, and they have determined that the phenomenon is "definitely real."

Sea-level rise is also dangerous because it can make high tide, storm surge, floods and erosion much worse, said Margaret Davidson, director of the Coastal Services Center of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"The reality is we are already experiencing these things because of the dramatic change in the greater severity of extreme events," she said.

"This trend is very clear. You don't actually have to be a scientist to see that."

And even though many parts of the world face the same problems, Davidson said the solutions are entirely local.

"Everything about how we do or don't manage these challenges is actually a local action, a local strategy."

Asked how long people have to prepare for sea-level rise, Flanders replied, "Communities everywhere are wondering the exact same thing."

"There is no free option. 'Do-nothing' isn't an option."

Explore further: Preparing for the flood: Visualizations help communities plan for sea-level rise

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11 comments

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gregor1
2 / 5 (9) Feb 20, 2012
Flanders is really gilding the lilly here. The huge threat in this area is earthquake and subsequent liquefaction NOT sea level rise. Falling for a flimflam man is sad when there are real problems that need addressing
XQZME
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 20, 2012
The rate of sea level change is about 6 inches per century. The rate has been been declining. Currently sea level has been dropping since 2007. The IPCC recently reported that the models predicting sea level are invalid. as the forcing factors thay are using have recently been proven to be invalid.
gregor1
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 20, 2012
Hang on XQZME . facts are anti science. You aren't a fortune- teller denialist are you? We all know scientists are great fortune-tellers. As for my mate Vendi he's actually a revolutionary
gregor1
1.9 / 5 (9) Feb 20, 2012
Here's the evidence 1.56 ± 0.25 mm/yr which is about 6 inches in 100 years. http://www.agu.or...30.shtml
As far as I know the satellite data shows sea level rise has pretty much stopped but the record is too short to deduce much from that. I also know that they're pretty much due for a major
in this region and should probably never have built there in the first place.
gregor1
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2012
earthquake sorry
gregor1
2 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2012
Here we go http://sealevel.colorado.edu/ Sea level dropped 6 ml in 2010 but they're expecting it to rise again . They say the rise is is 3.1 millimeters a year which still makes 310 ml in 100 years. This Flanders guys is a shonk
SemiNerd
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2012
Here's the evidence 1.56 0.25 mm/yr which is about 6 inches in 100 years. http://www.agu.or...30.shtml
As far as I know the satellite data shows sea level rise has pretty much stopped but the record is too short to deduce much from that. I also know that they're pretty much due for a major
in this region and should probably never have built there in the first place.

The link suggests using neural networks for determining the basis of the tidal gauge 'weighting functions'. Also the basis for this study was data between 1900 and 2010. Since most of the sea level rises have occurred in the last 40 years as warming as accelerated, making the longer period a poor basis for a non-linear projection.
gregor1
2 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2012
dir none of your links are reputable sources
gregor1
2 / 5 (8) Feb 21, 2012
I agree that XQ has cherry picked the data from 2007 and provided the link from the university of Colorado to show this. If you draw a line of best fit from 2007 on the graph presented there you will see what he means but personally I think that a little unfair. The same link shows the satellite data I mentioned which shows a 6ml drop in 2010. Wikipedia is well known for its bias in the reporting of climate http://www.conser..._warming They have a tendency to leave important research out if it doesn't serve their agenda
CardacianNeverid
3.8 / 5 (10) Feb 21, 2012
Wikipedia is well known for its bias in the reporting of climate [link to conservapedia] They have a tendency to leave important research out if it doesn't serve their agenda - gregor1TardofTards

Hahahahahaha! Quoting conservapedia on biased reporting about global warming! Such delicious irony must be totally lost on poor old gregor tard.
Lurker2358
not rated yet Feb 26, 2012
Here we go http://sealevel.colorado.edu/ Sea level dropped 6 ml in 2010 but they're expecting it to rise again . They say the rise is is 3.1 millimeters a year which still makes 310 ml in 100 years. This Flanders guys is a shonk


You do realize the rate of ice melting in Greenland is increasing exponentially, right?

There is also not a 1 to 1 ratio of volume ice melted to sea level rise, since the mass of the extra water pushes down on the sea floor, causing rebound of the continents. So over the long term you see about 1 or 2 units of rise for every 3 units worth of melt water, based on the density of rock vs density of water.

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