What Does the Future Hold for America’s Coastal Cities?
Scientists have observed a rapidly-growing atmospheric carbon presence. Whatever your views on the cause of this phenomenon, the trend is confirmed and supported throughout the scientific community. And with increasing levels of atmospheric carbon, and the subsequent UV heat-trapping, global temperatures continue to rise.
With warming atmospheric temperatures, ocean levels will also gradually increase, heralding a plethora of future problems and developments on a global scale. Chief amongst these: rising sea levels. As the earth heats up, colossal ice caps and glaciers melt and shift, further risking a slide into the sea, and even faster melting following that. The added volume of water - along with several other factors related to rising global temperatures, puts major coastal cities at risk in the near future.
Here are the two most significant ways we see life-changing for coastal dwellers.
Flooding is the most apparent manifestation of melting ice sheets and glacial ice. This possibility could still be a long way off, and we have some time to develop techniques and methods for adapting to it. The fear of flooding is in its pure inevitability. Climate warming has already occurred, ad the ice sheets have already begun melting. It will be exceedingly difficult to reverse the effects. Several cities across the US already observe significantly worse flooding than ever before.
Cities located along the coast - particularly those in and around Southern Florida and other southern coastal locales — may end up completely submerged. After all, these cities already live on the razor’s edge: New Orleans exists below sea level, and many other towns flood with the slightest increase in water height. For Florida, the Everglades count as a tidal zone already, and have expanded in recent years. Expect further expansion.
Meteorologists claim that warmer weather positively correlates to the increased severity of tropical storms and hurricanes. Storms that would normally have little effect now hammer all coastlines and island nations in their path. Unlike flooding, this trend is easily observable: just this year a trifecta of powerful hurricanes rocked island nations and coastal states. Scientists expect this trend to continue and worsen in the coming years.
Superstorm Sandy, for instance, once called a "storm of the century," already faces rivals, less than half a decade later. Even as Sandy's scars remain all over New York and New Jersey - Hurricane Katrina, now over a decade old, still requires cleanup - new and fearsome storms batter the coast at an alarmingly increased rate.
Reef death also contributes to the grim future for coastal cities in the path of major storm systems. Global warming, with the subsequent raising of oceanic temperatures, particularly in shallow, coastal waters, often results in the premature deaths of coral, which comprises vast barrier reefs. When temperatures rise, the coral tends to bleach, turning completely white and becoming significantly more fragile to infectious diseases and other common threats.
The problem here is more than aesthetic: coral reefs comprise unique ecosystems for many plants and animals, many of which struggle living anywhere else. Beyond this, when widespread extinction events occur - typically following a particularly nasty outbreak of a contagion across all coral in a reef - the entire ridge gradually disappears.
In some cases, these reefs function as a natural buffer for the coastline, breaking the worst of the storms and waves before they meet the mainland. Without coral, already-worsening storms become nigh-apocalyptic.
For those living on the coast, the future may look bleak. And though many of the adverse effects of global warming are fundamentally irreversible in the short-term, this is a problem which must merits consideration for its long-term ramifications.
Flooding may seem like an inconvenience, but when the flooding worsens each year, something has to change before it becomes much more than that. The same goes for worsening storms and the premature death of coral reefs.