A new study reveals that rising sea levels could disrupt the lives of over 13 million people in the United States.
That figure is more than three times than most current estimates. Rising sea levels are exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions, and have already put coastal communities in danger due to tidal floods and storm surges, writes Tatiana Schlossberg for The New York Times.
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Millions of people could be forced to migrate by rising sea levels
The study, published Monday and published in Nature Climate Change, predicts that sea levels could rise by more than 3 feet in the next 100 years if no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists behind the research claim that current estimates do not take into account population growth when estimating how many people will be affected by rising sea levels.
Researchers used data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to show that 4.2 million are at risk if seas rise by 3 feet, and 13.1 million will be threatened by a 6 foot increase.
Mathew E. Hauer, one of the study’s authors and a doctoral student in geography at the University of Georgia, said, “We could see a huge-scale migration if we don’t deploy any protection against sea level rise.”
Huge human and financial cost
Previous research showed that sea levels are rising at what may be the fastest rate in 28 centuries, bringing increasingly frequent tidal flooding which is causing problems in low-lying coastal areas. The most badly affected areas lie in Florida, where 50% of the projected population will be at risk, with a further 20% of the total located in other areas of the southeastern United States.
Study authors say that not a single one of the 22 coastal states in the U.S. will escape unharmed if sea levels rise at the predicted rate. If sea levels rise by 6 feet by 2100, over 1 million Californians and nearly the same number of people in New York and New Jersey would be affected.
Authorities would have to pay around $14 trillion to relocate 13.1 million displaced people.
Benjamin H. Strauss, an expert on sea-level rise at Climate Central, a climate change research organization, said he thought that the new study was overestimating the number of people at risk. However he did say that existing studies were too conservative.”
Scientists admit uncertainty of predictions
The continuation of “current development patterns through the rest of the century seems like an unlikely future,” Dr. Strauss said, “because as sea levels continue to rise and coastal problems become glaringly obvious, coastal development and real estate will have to change.”
Dr. Strauss also claims that the model used by the new study did not take into account local conditions. Coastal Louisiana and the Chesapeake region will see faster rises in sea levels as the land is sinking.
According to a further study, also published Monday in Nature Climate Change, it is important to consider how landscapes will react differently to rising sea levels. It is thought that certain ecosystems such as marshes and beaches could adapt to sea level rises, but urban areas are likely to flood.
Erika E. Lentz, the report’s lead author said that many locations would not be submerged to the extent suggested in Hauer’s study. Mr. Hauer, a demographer, said that he was focused on the effects on people rather than predicting sea level rises.
“We don’t have anything to compare this to,” Mr. Hauer said. “We just don’t know how people are going to act.”