One thing is becoming increasingly clear about climate change. You simply cannot hide. New research by the U.S. Geological Survey paints a sobering picture of the effects of rising sea levels on the West Coast of the United States. Researchers estimate that California will lose about one foot of land within the next ten years. By the end of the century, the losses will mount to 5.5 feet of land.
The Economics of Shoreline Erosion
Shoreline erosion has a myriad of economic and environmental effects. In 2003, about 153 million Americans or 53 percent of the population lived in coastal areas. That figure is projected to rise by 12 million by 2015. What happens to coastlines, therefore, is of concern to these residents.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimated that one in four buildings within 500 feet of shoreline would be lost over the next 60 years. This effect has consequences that could cripple economies dependent upon these areas.
The Environment and the Economy
Another area of concern involves the environmental effects of shoreline erosion. Coastal wetlands provide essential protection against floods and storm surges. Rising sea levels could flood these ecosystems, rendering their protection value void.
Several factors are behind shoreline erosion. With the warming climate, sea water expands. In addition, melting land ice adds to the volume of oceans. Human activity related to water withdrawal from aquifers further complicates the issue. The result is that the 21st century is on track to supersede sea levels rises in the 20th century.
Impacts Coast to Coast
While the USGS research focused on the West Coast, the Northeastern region is not immune to the effects of rising sea levels. The impacts of global warming and climate change are not consistent in all the world’s waters. The East Coast, for example, has experienced sea level increases that are three to four times the global average. For coastal Louisiana, the change was over two times the average.
Shoreline erosion, therefore, represents a national threat to the U.S. economy and its coastal ecosystems. The U.S. Global Change Research Program warned that with a one-meter increase in sea levels, most coastal wetlands will be lost. One thing is clear is that inaction on global warming is a dangerous course.