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article imageOp-Ed: Rising sea levels hitting US east coast, costing big money

By Paul Wallis     Jan 13, 2014 in Environment
New York - Forget denial, this is happening right now. New data from NOAA and a range of incidents along the east coast are rewriting the realities of sea level rise. A combination of rising sea levels and sinking coastal land is hitting the entire US east coast.
The results are costing a lot of money and damaging property values severely. New data from NOAA, (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) indicates that the future is looking expensive, and destructive, for the entire east coast.
The New York Times explains the metrics:
The work starts with the tides. Because of their importance to navigation, they have been measured for the better part of two centuries. While the record is not perfect, scientists say it leaves no doubt that the world’s oceans are rising. The best calculation suggests that from 1880 to 2009, the global average sea level rose a little over eight inches.
The result-
Sinking islands, and “routine flooding”
People complaining about always "driving through salt water"??? (What, if they drown, there's a problem?)
Huge expenditure on flood mitigation
The New York Times got some materials from the American Geophysical Union, so I decided to do some digging there.
What's happening is that a combination of lowering ground levels and rising sea levels is hitting the coast. The amount of net sea level rise varies, even in the same areas, but the effects are getting grim enough, particularly fiscally.
There’s a lot of info about sea level rise around the US, staying thoughtfully out of mainstream media. Galveston Island is now a mass of “geohazards”, including erosion and general loss of shoreline. If there's ever a re-release of that song, it may have to be done in scuba gear.
This isn’t happening only in the east. The West Coast also experienced some savage erosion in 2009-10. The overall pattern is a patchwork with a common theme- erosion, rising sea levels, more erosion. The theory is that erosion does exponential damage, and that seems to be the case.
What about the property market?
If you consider the amount of capital, property and infrastructure on the east coast, the likely cost of serious damage can only be astronomical.
The AGU published a monograph in 2005 (PDF doc) regarding sea level change by Bruce C Douglas which defines the situation, and it’s no trivial document.
This information effectively corroborates and provides a continuum of information for the NYT article information, 8 years later. Same sources, same basic profile of variable sea level rises. No action, and now counties and cities around the east coast are on the defensive, at great expense.
The New York Times again:
Coastal flooding has already become such a severe problem that Norfolk is spending millions to raise streets and improve drainage. Truly protecting the city could cost as much as $1 billion, money that Norfolk officials say they do not have. Norfolk’s mayor, Paul Fraim, made headlines a couple of years ago by acknowledging that some areas might eventually have to be abandoned.
OK, now multiply that problem by say every ten miles of coastline from Montauk to Galveston. Roads, cities, massive investment property portfolios, (and even “homes”, those things “people” have, whatever they are)you name it, there’s a price tag attached to them. The cumulative rise in Norfolk, VA, is 1.5 feet since 1900. The price tag, so far, already scratching at the $100 million bracket, for Norfolk alone. Some properties are now unsaleable, a direct loss for property owners.
The good news- So far, nobody’s sticking out their overbites, smiling like a cartoon squirrel and saying “How can we monetize this? How can we monetize this?” If sea level rise turns into big business, costs will go through the roof.
The bad news- This is happening now. What, exactly, are the other cartoon characters going to do about it? You know, the ones who are supposed to "manage" things?
Looks like the professionals got the message over a decade ago. Back in 2002, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) published a document (PDF) in which it was stated that sea level change had to be factored in “as far as the extent of estimated tidal influence”. (Item 5b)
(By the way, US Army- Would you like to go nuts and spring for another typewriter for the engineers? That one looks a bit self-conscious....)
USACE took the logical approach- They went on historical data, which as you can see from the NOAA/AGU information on the links above, is showing variable but continuing change in sea levels, upwards.
The local governments appear to be working on much the same basis, using a combination of local damage control and predictions. The mayor of Norfolk is calling a spade a spade when he refers to abandoning land- It’s not possible to save the entire coastline.
The test here is that this is actually happening, right now, around the clock. This isn’t a “Skeptics R Us” exercise. It’s real land, real money and real property sinking under real water, affecting real people in real time.
The question now is whether the media, governments and other invaluable ornaments to this Earthly paradise have a clue about how to handle the issues, or whether they can get a working remedial policy in place before hell dies of pneumonia.
Let’s face it- Reality isn’t exactly their strong suit. If it’s a choice between reality and policy, policy will probably win. If you live on the US east coast, either learn to swim between rooms or buy a houseboat, it’ll be quicker and cheaper.
This video gives some idea of the infrastructure required to manage erosion. It’s big, it’s expensive, and it has to work properly. This video is from Norfolk, 2011.
Have to like the sound of the wind in the microphone- Very appropriate. You'll also note that the trees are almost to the shoreline, and that the beach surface is very flat, meaning the water table isn't very far away. That's the classic case for tidal erosion.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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