Sea level rise and the growing threat of local flooding

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Sea level rise contributes to flooding even when there isn't a hurricane

All eyes seem to be on Hurricane Florence amid concerns about what the massive storm system could mean for our area.  If you’re worried about flooding as a result of a hurricane, scientists have been watching what they say is also a contributing factor to localized coastal flooding. That is sea level rise.

“Over time we get more flooding of upland properties just by the very fact that sea levels are rising,” says Dr. Clark Alexander from the Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography
 
Alexander has been studying sea level rise and its effects for more than two decades.  He says sea levels have risen about one foot every 100 years (century.)  But now things are changing and drastically. 

Sea levels are expected to increase in this century at an alarming rate.  “tHE rate of sea level rise is predicted to increase on the order of perhaps two to three times faster than it is rising today,” he told us.

Alexander says a worse case scenario is a rise of six feet by the end of this century.  However, he says most estimates say it may be about three feet.  Still, that would cause huge changes in coastal communities, including many islands being swallowed by water.

“Where sea level rise is very important is how the coast responds to changing conditions and storms,” he told us. 

He says sea level rise is already causing high tides to be higher which in turn can impact coastal flooding. “NOAA has been issuing a lot of shallow flooding advisories along the coast in the last few years because the issues of shallow coastal flooding are becoming much more common than in the past,” he says.

Dr. Alexander says higher sea levels mean changing the ways communities build and upgrading drainage systems.  Hee says warming ocean water present a double threat for coastal communities.  First, it makes sea levels higher which contribute to flooding even without a storm.  Secondly, if a hurricane does form, it can often make that hurricane worse.

“There’s certainly a lot of discussion going on within the scientific community right now and about what the warming climate is on larger storms and there seems to be a consensus developing that what we’ll see is more intense storms because the ocean water is warmer, giving more energy to the storms.”

However, Dr. Alexander says there isn’t a consensus that climate change and resulting warming water is causing more frequent storms.  But he says the analysis is showing that the hurricanes that are forming seem to be more intense.

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