A new study says a rise in sea levels threatens the viability of more than 1,400 cities and towns, including Miami, Virginia Beach and Jacksonville, unless there are deep cuts in heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.
Prior emissions have already locked in 4 feet of future sea-level rise that will submerge parts of 316 municipalities, but the timing is unclear and could take hundreds of years, according a report in USA Today on the research. If global warming continues at its current rate through the year 2100, at least an additional 1,100 cities and towns will be mostly under water at high tide in the distant future, the report says.
“It’s like this invisible threat,” says author Benjamin Strauss,a scientist at Climate Central, a non-profit, non-advocacy research group based in Princeton, N.J., that’s funded by foundations, individuals and federal grants. He says these sea levels are much higher than what’s predicted this century — typically 1 to 4 feet — because climate change multiplies their impact over hundreds of years.
He says many people have the mistaken notion that if greenhouse gas emissions stop, the problem of sea levels rising will go away. It won’t, he says, because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries — even millenniums — and contributes to two factors that raise sea levels: higher temperatures and the loss of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.
His dire projections suggest that the billions of dollars in damages from last year’s Superstorm Sandy are a harbinger of the future. “The current trend in carbon emissions likely implies the eventual crippling or loss of most coastal cities in the world,” writes Strauss, who directs Climate Central’s program on rising sea levels.