Rising sea levels are a growing global problem. In 2020, global sea level set a new record high—91.3 mm (3.6 inches) above 1993 levels. The rate of sea level rise is accelerating: it has more than doubled from 0.06 inches (1.4 millimeters) per year throughout most of the twentieth century to 0.14 inches (3.6 millimeters) per year from 2006–2015.
There are a number of factors contributing to the issue, including melting ice caps and glaciers, and thermal expansion (the increased volume of water as it warms). As sea levels continue to rise, coastal communities will be increasingly at risk from flooding and other impacts associated with climate change.
Global sea level is projected to rise by 1-4 feet (0.3-1.2 meters) by 2100, depending on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Even a small increase in sea level can have a big impact, as it can amplify the effects of storms and flooding. It also increases the risk of saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers, which can contaminate drinking water supplies.
It is a serious global problem that we must work to address. We can do this by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change, and supporting coastal communities as they grapple with this growing threat.
Carbon offsets or carbon credits are a way of reducing your carbon footprint by investing in projects that help to offset your emissions. For example, you might invest in a project that helps to reduce deforestation, which would help to offset the emissions from your car or flight.
Carbon offsets can be a helpful way of reducing your impact on the environment. Greenhouse gases can be offset by carbon-reducing projects, like planting trees or investing in renewable energy. When choosing a carbon offset project, it’s important to make sure that it is high quality and will actually result in reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also important to choose a project that is environmentally and socially responsible.
Some of the impacts of sea level rise that coastal communities around the world are already grappling with include:
Flooding: More frequent and more intense floods are one of the most immediate impacts of sea level rise. As sea levels rise, storm surge and waves can cause flooding even in areas that have not traditionally experienced flooding.
Erosion: As sea levels rise and storms become more intense, coasts will experience more erosion. This can damage infrastructure and property, and lead to the loss of beaches and other natural habitats.
Saltwater Intrusion: As seawater rises, it can contaminate freshwater aquifers with saltwater. This can make drinking water unsafe and disrupt agricultural production.
Coastal communities in the United States are already working to adapt to the issue. Some adaptation strategies include:
Elevating homes and critical infrastructure: This can help to protect against flooding and erosion.
Building seawalls and levees: These structures can help to reduce the risk of flooding from storm surge and waves.
Restoring coastal wetlands: Wetlands can act as a natural buffer against floods and storms.
Rising Sea Levels in the United States
In the United States, it is a particularly pressing issue for coastal communities. The Union of Concerned Scientists has projected that, by 2030, up to 170 U.S. coastal cities could be facing chronic flooding due to sea level rise and land subsidence (the gradual sinking of the land). Major areas affected in the United States include:
The Gulf Coast: The Gulf Coast is one of the most vulnerable regions in the United States to sea level rise and flooding. Storms like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy have caused billions of dollars in damage, and the issue will only make these storms more destructive in the future.
The East Coast: The East Coast is also highly vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding. Many East Coast communities are built on low-lying land, making them especially susceptible to flooding from storm surge and waves. In addition, the region is experiencing some of the fastest rates of sea level rise in the world.
The West Coast: The West Coast is not as vulnerable as the East or Gulf Coasts, but it is still at risk. Rising sea levels could cause flooding and erosion, and damage critical infrastructure like roads, bridges, and sewer systems, including in California.
Rising Sea Levels in Australia
In Australia, it is already having an impact on coastal communities. The Australian government has projected that sea levels could rise by as much as 1 meter (3.3 feet) by 2100, and some estimates suggest that the rise could be even higher. Major communities affected include Cairns, Townsville, and Mackay in Queensland; Rockhampton, Gladstone, and Bundaberg in Central Queensland; and Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, and Newcastle in New South Wales.
Rising Sea Levels in Canada
In Canada, it is a particularly pressing issue for the coastal community of Halifax. The city is already experiencing more frequent and intense flooding, and the effects are expected to worsen as sea levels continue to rise. Halifax is working to adapt to the impacts of sea level rise by elevating critical infrastructure and building seawalls.
In the European Union (EU), it is a particularly pressing issue for the coastal community of Venice, Italy. The city is already experiencing more frequent and intense flooding, and the effects are expected to worsen as levels continue to rise. Venice is working to adapt to the impacts of sea level rise by elevating critical infrastructure and building seawalls.
In the United Kingdom (UK), it is a particularly pressing issue for the coastal community of Portsmouth. The city is already experiencing more frequent and intense flooding, and the effects are expected to worsen as sea levels continue to rise. Portsmouth is working to adapt to the impacts of sea level rise by elevating critical infrastructure and building seawalls.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Greenhouse gas emissions are directly responsible for the phenomenon. As greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane trap heat in the atmosphere, they cause the Earth’s surface temperature to increase. This, in turn, causes the ocean’s waters to expand and ice sheets and glaciers to melt, leading to an increase in sea level.
To effectively address the issue, it is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas. The impacts are already being felt around the world, and the problem is only going to get worse. We must take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change. We can also support coastal communities as they adapt to this growing threat.