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Investing in Shoreline Infrastructure to Address Rising Sea Levels

Big Picture


Over the last few decades, the world has experienced an increase in the rate at which sea levels rise. It has been linked as a byproduct of climate change and higher global temperatures. This has two effects on sea levels: the first and most prominent is the melting of ice caps and glaciers due to warmer water, and the second is the thermal expansion of water as it gets warmer, which also leads to a rise in sea levels.


Graphic From: “Climate Change: Global Sea Level.” NOAA Climate.gov, NOAA, 22 April 2022, https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-sea-level.

This figure illustrates the observed sea level since 1993 (black line), plus independent estimates of the different contributions to sea level rise: thermal expansion (red) and added water, mostly due to glacier melt (blue). The addition of the two contributors (purple line) matches the observed sea level very well.


Operative Definitions


  1. Global Sea Level Rise: The increase in the level of the world’s oceans due to higher global temperatures.

  2. Composting: The biological degradation of organic material in controlled conditions to obtain stable material.

  3. Green infrastructure: Both natural and engineered systems that serve as infrastructure to help with environmental challenges.

  4. Living seawall: Individual pieces of seawall made out of 3D printed material that are mounted to an existing seawall.


Important Facts and Statistics


  1. The rate of sea level rise has doubled from 0.06 inches in the 1990s to 0.14 inches in the 2010s.

  2. The year 2021 set a new record of a 3.8-inch increase in global sea levels from 1993. 

  3. Projections conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that the rise of global sea levels could range from one foot to five feet by 2100.

  4. According to the National Ocean Service, the United States is expected to experience a faster rise in sea levels of 10 to 12 inches in 30 years (2020-2050), paralleling measurements taken from the last 100 years. 


Four-Point Plan


(1) Create local programs that help lower carbon emissions. 

Local governments should introduce programs like composting to reduce the emissions produced through landfills. The composting of organic material can lower the greenhouse emissions released in landfills by 50%.


(2) Invest in green infrastructure.

Coastal cities and towns need to invest in developing green infrastructure that will help mitigate or prevent the disruption that a rise in sea levels can cause.


(3) Restore wetlands along U.S. coastlines.

Part of the investment should be directed to restoring the natural barriers between the oceans and cities. These natural barriers include wetlands, salt marshes and mangroves, as they can absorb water, reduce the force coming from waves and strengthen the soil to avoid erosion.


(4) Fortify existing seawalls with artificial protections.

One artificial protection in particular is called the living seawall, which is affixed to the structure and designed to mimic a marine habitat. It helps rehabilitate marine ecosystems, like reefs, that also help prevent flooding.


Why this Initiative is Important


Thirty percent of the United States population lives in cities along the country’s coastlines. As the effects of climate change are fast approaching, cities need to be prepared. Currently, structures like seawalls are in 14% of the U.S. shoreline and cannot sustain the effects of climate change properly. These hard structures are vulnerable to collapse when enough of the soil at the base erodes away. Therefore, a different approach is necessary. This proposal takes an active step in lowering emissions and improving the protections against the rise in sea level. The use of natural environments actively strengthens the land so that it can better deal with floods and storm surges.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Sources


Bennington, Joseph. “Walls Won't Save Our Cities From Rising Seas. Here's What Will.” NBC News, 26 July 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/walls-won-t-save-our-cities-rising-seas-here-s-ncna786811. Accessed 13 June 2023.

Lindsey, Rebecca. “Climate Change: Global Sea Level | NOAA Climate.gov.” Climate.gov, https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-sea-level. Accessed 13 June 2023.

Talt, Gina. “The ComPOSTer: How much can composting help in solving the climate challenge? [UPDATED].” S.C.R.A.P. lab, 4 March 2020, https://scraplab.princeton.edu/2020/03/the-composter-how-much-can-composting-help-in-solving-the-climate-challenge/. Accessed 13 June 2023.

“3D-printed living seawalls are protecting coastal areas from floods.” The World Economic Forum, 12 August 2022, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/08/living-seawalls-eco-engineering/. Accessed 13 June 2023.



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