New Technical Report from USGS and NOAA Describes Climate Vulnerabilities of U.S. Coastlines

Posted by on January 30, 2013 in Blog, Coastal Development, Coastal Resilience | 0 comments

Natural "green barriers."

The draft National Climate Assessment is replete with the across-the-board climate horrors that are upon us. Indeed, coastal impacts are described in Chapter 25 of the many-chaptered document.  Now though, as if our attention needed to be focused somewhat, NOAA and USGS have released a more detailed technical document specifically on the coastal vulnerabilities. According to NOAA,

“A key finding in the report is that all U.S. coasts are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as sea-level rise, erosion, storms and flooding, especially in the more populated low-lying parts of the U.S. coast along the Gulf of Mexico, Mid-Atlantic, northern Alaska, Hawaii, and island territories. Another finding indicated the financial risks associated with both private and public hazard insurance are expected to increase dramatically.”

“An increase in the intensity of extreme weather events such as storms like Sandy and Katrina, coupled with sea-level rise and the effects of increased human development along the coasts, could affect the sustainability of many existing coastal communities and natural resources,” said Virginia Burkett of the U.S. Geological Survey and co-lead author of the report.

“The authors also emphasized that storm surge flooding and sea-level rise pose significant threats to public and private infrastructure that provides energy, sewage treatment, clean water and transportation of people and goods.”

Our coastal communities are absolutely critical to the U.S. economy — with half of our population and more than 60% of the nation’s GDP coming from coastal watershed counties.  As report author Burkett explains to Michael Lemonick at Climate Progress, a lot of existing coastal development isn’t prepared for what’s coming.

“It’s also about intensive coastal development pretty much everywhere but Alaska.”  Roads, sea walls and buildings have been constructed under the assumption that sea level is a set feature of the landscape, so as Burkett said, “it’s not surprising that when you add a meter of sea level rise, you’ve got problems.”

We would think that the scope of the unpreparedness should bring a sense of urgency, but we’ve yet to see it. We’ll have more on this in the coming days, but climate is a big important problem that gets more and more difficult to address with each passing day of inaction. Mitigation gets harder, adaptation gets more expensive, and risks get riskier. Coastal communities will need to be more vocal in calling for action. Before it’s too late.

 

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