What is Sea Level Rise? What can We Do to Prepare?


   Sea Level Rise, often referred to as SLR, is now an inevitable result of Climate Change. As carbon emissions like those from cars and factories increase, the world’s climate will increase in temperature. As a result, the icebergs in the arctic that store the majority of the world’s freshwater will melt. This causes the sea levels to gradually rise several feet. Coastal communities will be affected first by this phenomenon, including our own, and this will happen in the next fifty years. 

   As sea levels continue to rise, parts of coastal communities will become destroyed or inaccessible over the years. According to Dave Hovde, Chief Meteorologist from KSBY, “on the west coast in California, the impact of sea level rise is a little bit muted at least initially but the concerns are as high as you can imagine.”

   Many people fear losing their homes and places they visit, beaches, and other recognizable locations. There are some things we can do to prepare for this future disaster. A report conducted by the Legislative Analyst’s Office of California illustrates the steps coastal communities in our state can and should take to prepare for this future. Hovde addresses the importance of not only acknowledging this issue, but responsibility responding and taking action. “The data is irrefutable. It’s happening. We have to get past the debate of what the cause is because there’s just so much science. We’re watching Australian wildfires, we’ve seen wildfires in our own backyard, 30 degree temperature averages are up. It’s time to stop the debate and it’s time to move on to how we can manage what is already happening and what might happen in the future.” 

   There are three options or strategies that local governments can choose from when adapting to SLR. The first is protection. Hard or soft barriers can be built to try to stop or buffer water and protects assets (buildings, homes, highways, and other locations) from flooding. Positive components of adapting in this way include keeping existing infrastructure as well as being cheaper than other adaptation strategies. However, trade-offs include decreasing effectiveness as time passes. Sea levels will rise continuously and render some barriers obsolete as they are submerged. They will not always be able to withstand the increasing pressure of rising ocean. Although it is a cheaper adaptation in comparison, it is still very expensive. Additionally, building barriers will disrupt the natural erosion of beaches. This means beaches will disappear as sand is no longer eroded.

   Accomodation is the second strategy. Accomodation is modifying assets to accommodate regular or periodic flooding. This can be raising buildings up or even adding floating devices to certain assets. Advantages of this adaptation style is that once an asset is modified, the existing structure can remain and allow for future development. The tradeoffs are similar to the first adaptation method; over time, it will decrease in effectiveness as levels continue to rise above the modified buildings. It can also be extremely expensive to modify buildings and other assets.

   The third method for adaptation is relocation. This would include moving assets from projected flood zones and moving them to higher ground or safer locations. This method can provide space for beach or wetlands to migrate inland as the water rises, which would preserve the natural ecosystem of our coastal community. Additionally, development locations will be safe from flooding for a significant amount of time. However, this method is disruptive to pre-existing structures farther inland, it is expensive, like the other options, and sometimes it is not possible. Moving structures would prove to be difficult. Some land will become unavailable for development as sea level rises, which means there is less space for new houses, buildings, highways, and other assets. The housing crisis in California makes this method more difficult, since housing is already crowded and new housing is hard to squeeze in. Since SLR will ultimately decrease the space available for housing, it will worsen the housing crisis and make it difficult to relocate assets.

   Each adaptation has its advantages and its tradeoffs. Adapting is likely less costly in the long run than doing nothing at all, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The cost of damages from sea level rise, if no action is taken, will amount to about six times the cost of adapting the assets before the disaster occurs. Each local government in the coastal communities must analyse what combination of the strategies best suits their location with scientific research. Hovde addresses the global issue of SLR, “It’s a tremendous concern because if you look globally, we’re already seeing it happen. In Indonesia this year, we lost two islands. They are gone. They are under 10 feet of water.” There’s no stopping sea level rise at the rate of carbon emissions in our world, so all we can do is prepare and adapt for the inevitable.

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