The burning of fossil fuels and other activities have released enormous amounts of gases into the atmosphere. These emissions have warmed the Earth’s surface, and the oceans have absorbed 80 percent of this additional heat.
As the ocean warms, the density decreases and the volume of the ocean increases. This is called thermal expansion and it has been one of the major contributors to sea level changes over the past two centuries.
Global warming has made the world 1 degree Celsius (or 1.8 F) warmer and this small increase is having a major economic impact. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the number of extreme weather events has increased by over 400 percent since the 1980s, to the tune of $1 billion in economic losses. And that’s just in the U.S. Globally, flood damages for the world’s 136 largest coastal cities could cost $1 trillion annually over the next 20 to 30 years.
With sea levels rising around the world, we could lose many coastal cities like Miami, New York, and Guangzhou, China. In Florida, the sea levels are expected to rise two meters by 2100. Current projections put between $15 billion and $23 billion of existing Florida property underwater by 2050.
As the effects of climate worsen, rising sea levels will change coastal communities. When the sea levels rise, the water table also rises, putting intense pressure on nearby buildings and roadways. Requirements will move well beyond the need for higher seawalls as entire infrastructures will be challenged, from septic tanks to drainage systems to wells and anything else that lies close to the water table.
Engineers, urban planners, and property managers will have to adjust how they design and build cities. In certain locations in Florida, “adaptation strategies” are being introduced that include building higher seawalls, raising roads, sidewalks, electrical boxes and the first stories of buildings, and implementing sea gates and tidal valves.
Adaptation strategies are just part of the solution. Technology and innovation will help offset some of the factors that are causing climate change. Investments in renewable energy can save billions of dollars. New jobs will be created—an estimated 500,000 in the U.S.—by reducing a reliance on coal and focusing on sustainable solutions. In the process, health and air quality could also be improved.
Data will play a key role. Effective planning depends on having the most accurate, up-to-date information. Future scenarios can be modelled based on collecting and analyzing this data to identify trends, performance, and other potential issues as part of the domino effect of rising seawater or flooding on infrastructure.
Rising sea levels will impact how coastal residents access public services, as well as their taxes and insurance rates. Will insurance companies, for example, include water-sewer line coverage below the first story of properties in coastal cities? As the costs associated with climate change soar, governments will have to explore sustainable solutions and prepare for more frequent and extreme weather events.