GRI Current Events Blog

Latest Study Shows Hundreds of U.S. Communities at Risk of Flooding

GRI Research Assistant

Jul. 12, 2017

The latest study published by the Union of Concerned Scientists adds to the existing body of work on the dangers of flooding caused by climate change. It presented three scenarios for temperature-induced sea rise: low, where warming is limited to two degrees Celsius; intermediate, with four feet of sea level rise by 2100, and high flood estimates, where the sea level rises six and a half feet by 2100.

Flooding in South Beach, Miami - Flickr/Maxstrz

Flooding in South Beach, Miami – Flickr/Maxstrz

This study publishes a list of hundreds of U.S. cities that may experience frequent flooding, or be inundated with water, as the sea level rises in the coming years. For the purposes of the study, inundation was defined as when a “non-wetland area is flooded at least 26 times per year or the equivalent of a flood every other week.” There are 90 communities in the U.S. that are already termed ‘inundated’ by the definitions of the study, mainly in Louisiana and Maryland.

RELATED | Explore interactive maps of affected US coastal communities

In the next hundred years, many more communities and cities are predicted to be similarly at risk, including Boston, parts of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Scientists have become increasingly concerned about climate change-induced flooding in the coming years. The concern is fueled by projections of large, long-term consequences of climate change, including a study from 2016, published in Science Advances found that burning all of the fossil fuel deposits in the world would cause a dramatic enough change in global temperature to melt the Antarctic ice sheet. They concluded that over the next thousand years, half of this ice sheet may melt.

In the immediate term, this melting rate is equivalent to a foot of sea-level rise every decade, and could rapidly flood coastal cities. A study in 2007 found that 634 million people live in ‘low elevation’ areas, defined as “less than 30 feet above sea level” – including two thirds of the largest global cities, which continue to grow as populations keep shifting toward urban centers.

One author of the Concerned Scientists study, climate analyst at USC Erika Spanger-Seigfried, said she thinks that the “federal government should be on notice that it’s got a ballooning, national sea level rise problem — one that requires stronger federal policies and more resources to deal with it, as well as a renewed seriousness about addressing climate change and hopefully slowing the pace of sea level rise.”

Sources and Further Reading:

When Rising Seas Hit Home: Hard Choices Ahead for Hundreds of US Coast CommunitiesUnion of Concerned Scientists

Higher seas to flood dozens of US cities, study says; is yours one of them?CNN

Study Predicts Antarctica Ice Melt if All Fossil Fuels Are BurnedThe New York Times

Combustion of available fossil fuel resources sufficient to eliminate the Antarctic Ice SheetScience Advances

Study: 634 Million People at Risk from Rising SeasNPR



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