Monday, April 15, 2024

Cities that are going underwater are making the rise of sea levels go faster

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Many cities along the US coast are sinking rapidly, making them more vulnerable to severe flooding from rising sea levels than previously believed, as per scientists’ findings on Wednesday.

As the oceans rise and the coasts sink, about 343,000 acres of land could face destructive flooding by 2050 due to hurricanes, coastal storms, and shoreline erosion, warns a study in the journal Nature. In a worst-case scenario, approximately 1 in 50 people in the 32 cities studied might be at risk of flooding.

This study, according to researchers, is the first to blend the growing threat of rising sea levels with detailed measurements of sinking areas to identify the coastal spots most in danger of flooding. “Every finding in this research is new,” stated Manoochehr Shirzaei, a geophysicist at Virginia Tech and co-author of the study.

The significance of sinking land has been underestimated, noted Leonard Ohenhen, the study’s lead author and a doctoral researcher at Virginia Tech. “When you consider these two different processes – land sinking on the coast and sea rising in the ocean – you’ll have many more areas prone to flooding in the future,” he explained to CNN.

Some cities on the East Coast are facing rising sea levels due to sinking land. This includes places like New York City, Atlantic City, Virginia Beach, Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.

Even cities that aren’t sinking are at risk of coastal flooding on the Eastern Seaboard because they lack proper protection, according to researchers.

The Gulf Coast is sinking too, especially in southern Louisiana and southeast Texas around Galveston, Freeport, and Corpus Christi. However, fewer people are exposed to this flooding risk compared to the more densely populated East Coast. The study suggests that about one-third of the expected sea level rise in the Gulf Coast over the next 30 years could be caused by sinking land.

Coastal cities are sinking mainly because of groundwater extraction. Cities and industries are pulling water from underground faster than it can be replaced, especially during climate change-induced droughts. This excessive pumping lowers the water table, causing the land above it to sink.

Oil and gas extraction also contribute to sinking land. The Gulf Coast has numerous facilities for extracting oil and gas, which not only worsen the climate crisis but also play a significant role in land subsidence.

Other factors like seismic activity and soil compaction also cause land to sink. In some areas, the weight of accumulating sediments or heavy buildings pressing down on the ground leads to a steady sinking. New York City, for example, was found to be sinking due to the weight of its own buildings in a study last year.

“What I find interesting is that nowadays, dealing with floods is like playing a small-scale game,” shared Kristina Hill, an expert in environmental planning and urban design at the University of California, Berkeley, who isn’t part of this research. She added, “Our actions are catching up with us,” emphasizing the importance of considering land sinking when cities plan defenses like levees and sea walls.

In a photo, people react as sudden rain soaks them while leaving a flooded neighborhood in LaPlace, Louisiana, on August 30, 2021, after Hurricane Ida. The aftermath reveals the damage, with rescuers dealing with the consequences.

The report highlights that, by 2050, more than half of those affected will be people who identify as Black or African American, even though they make up only about 29% of the total population in the region.

According to the study, “For places like New Orleans and Port Arthur, you’ll notice that property values are generally lower.” Ohenhen explained, “This suggests that there’s a higher presence of people with lower incomes in these areas that will be affected by 2050.”

Cities should consider the sinking of land while dealing with the changing climate to keep their communities safe from rising sea levels, warn experts. Ignoring land sinking might result in incorrect predictions of potential risks. Researchers also highlight that many studies on rising sea levels focus on the distant future, making it seem too far away for immediate planning. They emphasize the importance of understanding the risks and taking action beforehand, rather than waiting for a major event to force changes.

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