What is Sea Level Rise?

Sea level rise is a symptom of a warming planet.

For millions of years, the average temperature of  Earth has allowed a certain amount of moisture to be locked up in frozen reservoirs: glaciers and polar ice caps. This is changing very quickly due to the extreme volume of greenhouse gases humans are releasing into the atmosphere.

Additionally, as the ocean warms, water expands and its volume increases.

People will experience the impacts of sea level rise to varying degrees.

While those living directly on the coast will feel the impacts most directly, others will suffer from coastal flooding. Some examples:

  • If you pay taxes to a regional government that has infrastructure on the coast, your taxes will likely go up (whether or not your home is on the coast) or other public services provided by that government will be stressed.
  • Sunshine destinations with economies reliant on beach going tourists, and tourism travel industry, will suffer the costs of  reduced visitation in addition to adaptation measures.
  • Food production in coastal flood plains can be adversely affected by flooding and saltwater intruding groundwater  irrigation sources, impacting worldwide markets for produce.
diagram of salt water intrusion
Credit: Sabrina Doyle [Click for more information]

How will sea level rise affect you?

Sea level rise will impact many coastal communities around the world, in the places where we live, work, and play.  Here are some of the ways that your community may be impacted:

  • Public Access & Recreation: Loss of beaches in places where buildings, roads, or other recreation areas are immediately adjacent to the beach.
  • Coastal Habitats: Transformation of habitats as intertidal zone shifts inland; loss of wetlands and other habitats where areas cannot migrate up or inland due to inland barriers such as coastal development.
  • Coastal Agriculture: Increase in flooding and inundation of low-lying agricultural lands; saltwater intrusion into agricultural water supplies; potential decrease in amount of freshwater available for agricultural uses, or inability of wetlands to keep pace vertically with rising water levels.
  • Cultural Resources: Archeological and paleontological sites, including many Native American villages, religious and ceremonial locations, burial sites, and other areas could be at risk from sea-level rise.
  • Public infrastructure: Low-lying roads, wastewater treatment facilities, energy facilities, stormwater infrastructure, potable water systems, and electricity transfer systems are at risk of inundation and flooding, and impaired function. Infrastructure located on eroding bluffs is also subject to increased geologic hazards.
  • Ports & Marinas: Possible decrease in need for dredging; damage to piers and marina facilities from greater uplift forces and higher water levels; potential difference in heights between ships, cargo handling facilities and drydock/ ship repair facilities.
  • Coastal Development: Greater likelihood of tidal damage, flooding, inundation, and extreme waves, which could lead to loss of property or physical injury; instability from increased erosion and loss/movement of beach sand; increased areas exposed to a 100-year flood.
  • Groundwater Aquifers: Added stress to freshwater supplies as a result of saltwater intrusion and movement of people out of areas that become permanently flooded.