As Houston continues to grapple with extreme weather conditions, scientists find record-breaking sea level rises in the U.S. Gulf Coast, which could leave cities such as Houston more vulnerable to severe storms and flooding in the coming decades than previously anticipated.
Since 2010, sea levels along the Gulf Coast and Southeast coastlines have been rising by roughly half an inch per year due to a combination of human-caused climate change and an extended period of unfavorable natural conditions, according to a new study published by the scientific journal Nature Communications.
Although half an inch might not seem like a lot, it can have significant consequences for coastal communities. A NASA analysis determined that for every inch of sea level rise, about 8.5 feet of beachfront vanishes along an average coast. In fact, these rates are on par with the “worst case” scenario if greenhouse gas emissions continued to surge throughout the 21st century.
Higher sea levels also can cause more flooding even on sunny days, often leading to considerable damage to properties and infrastructure, according to the paper’s lead author, Sönke Dangendorf, at Tulane University. This latest research joins a long list of recent studies highlighting the negative effect climate change could have on the Houston area.
“These rapid rates are unprecedented over at least the 20th century and they have been three times higher than the global average over the same period,” Dangendorf told the Tulane News. “The results, once again, demonstrate the urgency of the climate crisis for the Gulf region. We need interdisciplinary and collaborative efforts to sustainably face these challenges.”
The findings by Dangendorf and his team were consistent with those of Jianjun Yin, a geosciences professor at the University of Arizona. In his recent article in the Journal of Climate, Yin used satellite observations to estimate the total amount of sea level rise in the East and the Gulf Coasts from 2010 to 2022 was about 5 inches. The drastic rate has made disasters such as Hurricanes Michael and Ian more devastating than they otherwise would have been, he told The Washington Post.
“The faster (sea level rise) on the Southeast and Gulf Coasts … coincided with active and even record-breaking North Atlantic hurricane seasons in recent years,” Yin said in his study. “As a consequence, the elevated storm surge exacerbated coastal flooding and damages, particularly on the Gulf Coast.”
The study and an abstract are here. I don’t think the premise or the conclusions will surprise anyone who has lived through the last decade or so here. It’s more a question of how much worse it gets, and how much of a risk that is to everyone living here. And, in a more hopeful vein, what we can do to mitigate that and protect ourselves.