Locked In: Sea Level Will Rise a Foot by 2050

February 15, 2022

Washington Post:

The shorelines of the United States are projected to face an additional foot of rising seas over the next three decades, intensifying the threat of flooding and erosion to coastal communities across the country, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Human-caused climate change, driven mostly by the burning of fossil fuels, has accelerated global sea level rise to the fastest rate in more than 3,000 years. The new report by NOAA and other federal agencies — updating a prior study from 2017 — predicts that ocean levels along U.S. coasts will increase as much by 2050 as they did over the past century.

This amount of water battering the coasts “will create a profound increase in the frequency of coastal flooding, even in the absence of storms or heavy rainfall,” NOAA said.

“We’re unfortunately headed for a flood regime shift,” said William Sweet, an oceanographer at the NOAA National Ocean Service and the nation’s top scientist on sea level rise. “There will be water in the streets unless action is taken in more and more communities.”

Drawing on data from tidal gauges and satellite imagery, as well as cutting-edge models from the most recent U.N. report on climate change, the NOAA analysis gives decade-by-decade sea level rise projections for all U.S. states and territories over the next 100 years. Advances in ice sheet modeling and better observational data allowed the authors to give more definitive near-term projections than ever before, Sweet said.

Even if the world takes swift action to curb carbon emissions, he said, the trajectory for sea level rise “is more or less set over the next 30 years.”

Kristina Dahl, a principal climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said research she and colleagues of done suggest that 10 to 12 inches of sea level rise by 2050 would put roughly 140,000 homes at risk of “chronic inundation,” or flooding every other week on average.

Already, she said, high-tide flooding in places such as Charleston, S.C., has quadrupled in frequency since the 1970s. Other communities, from Louisiana to New Jersey to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, have wrestled with flooding that has become more common and costly.

“They’re already having to make difficult decisions or major investments to cope with the flooding they are seeing,” said Dahl, who was not involved in Tuesday’s report. While other coastal communities have so far avoided major impacts, “They will have to start grappling with these same kind of issues.”

Looking ahead to the end of the century, the amount of planet-warming pollution people release into the atmosphere could mean the difference between sea levels stabilizing at about 2 feet above the historic average or surging by almost 8 feet, NOAA reports.

One Response to “Locked In: Sea Level Will Rise a Foot by 2050”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Even without landfall, the extra activity for the “fish-bothering” hurricanes has eaten Atlantic beaches and barrier islands. We’ve recently seen what that blizzardy nor’easter did to the Cape Cod shoreline.


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