July 18, 2019
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Sea levels are likely rising faster than we think

Gregory Rec | Portland Press Herald via AP
Gregory Rec | Portland Press Herald via AP
Kaylee Collin, right, and Spencer Stone walk through water along North Avenue in Camp Ellis in Saco, March 4, 2018.

With warming oceans and melting ice sheets, sea levels may rise more rapidly than previously predicted, scientists have warned in a new study. Based on their assessment, the researchers warn that nearly 2 million square kilometers of land would be lost for farming and human habitation, with as many as 187 million people displaced by 2100.

This dire warning may be extreme, which the researchers acknowledge. But, as the researchers note, underestimating the consequences of climate change can lead to dangerous complacency. It is better to prepare for the worst and be wrong than to rely on the best case scenario and be underprepared for the significant changes that will accompany a warming planet.

One reason it is difficult to predict how much sea levels will rise is that ice sheets are melting faster than expected, so scientists are having a hard time keeping their modeling up to date as conditions change rapidly.

Because of the melting ice, the researchers — including experts on risk analysis and modeling from the U.S. and England — decided to take a fresh look at predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body that is responsible for assessing the science around climate change.

What the researchers found is alarming. Sea levels could rise twice as fast as the IPCC warned in 2014. They found that globally, sea levels could rise by more than 2 meters (about 6 ½ feet) by 2100.

By the end of this century, nearly 2.5 million homes and commercial properties — with a value of more than $1 trillion — will be at risk of chronic flooding, the Union of Concerned Scientists warned in a study last year. The latest revelation was published last week by the National Academy of Sciences.

Based on this research, the financial news and analysis site 24/7 Wall St. calculated the cities most at risk from rising sea levels. Their list included many cities in Florida, South Carolina and New Jersey. Miami Beach, Florida, topped the list with a predicted 94 percent of the city’s habitable land under water by 2100 and three-quarters of homes at risk of flooding by the turn of the century.

Maine is not immune. Earlier this year, the Maine Coastal Program, part of the state Department of Marine Resources, received a federal grant of about $200,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to identify areas around Penobscot Bay that are most vulnerable to rising seas and how to help protect them.

One of the communities, Stonington, has begun an engineering study to identify high risk areas and to protect the town’s assets, including its dock, where more than $46 million worth of seafood was brought ashore in 2013.

“We can see it happening right in front of our eyes,” Henry Teverow, the town’s economic development director, recently told the BDN about sea level rise. “Either we can start being prepared for it right now and doing some preparation for it, or we can be reacting to it and have it cost us more.”

Preparing for the consequences of climate change is vital, of course. But so is taking steps to reduce our impact on the planet. There is an urgent need to both plan for sea level rise and other predicted changes, and to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. This means burning less fossil fuel to power our cars, electrical grid and manufacturing plants.

 



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