The two-month cruise aboard the Palmer was the beginning of a five-year, $50 million international collaboration to better understand the plight of Thwaites. Scientists believe the massive glacier is teetering on the brink of collapse, though just how fast that could happen remains an open question.
Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by two feet. If the glacier collapses, it could destabilize a portion of West Antarctica that would, in turn, raise sea levels by about 11 feet.
Boston dodged a disaster in 2012. After Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey and New York, the superstorm hit Boston near low tide, causing minimal damage. If Sandy had arrived four hours earlier, many Bostonians would have been ankle to hip deep in seawater.
Across the globe, sea levels are rising, delivering bigger storm surges and higher tides to coastal cities. In Boston, the most persistent reminder comes in the form of regular “nuisance” flooding — when seawater spills onto roads and sidewalks during high tides. Those nuisance events are harbingers of a wetter future, when extreme high tides are predicted to become a daily occurrence.
“The East Coast has been riding a post-Sandy mentality of preparing and responding before the next big one,” says Robert Freudenberg, an environmental planner at the Regional Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy firm based in New York City. But a more enduring kind of threat looms. “Sea level rise is the flooding that doesn’t go away,” he says. “Not that far in the future, some of our most developed places may be permanently inundated.”
For cities in the United States, the price of infrastructure projects to combat rising seas and intensifying storms is coming into focus — and so is the sticker shock.
In Boston, where many neighborhoods have been built and recently expanded in low-lying areas, an estimated $2.4 billion will be needed over the next several decades to protect the city from flooding, one study says. That report came as the city abandoned plans to build a harbor barrier that would have cost between $6 billion and $12 billion, which researchers concluded was economically unfeasible.
In Charleston, South Carolina, the mayor said last year that the city, which floods regularly during high tides, had an estimated $2 billion in needed drainage projects.
In Norfolk, Virginia, the Army Corps of Engineers has recommended a $1.4 billion series of seawalls and other infrastructure to protect part of the shoreline. As with many cities, that’s just the start.
Tens of thousands of Bay Area homes worth about $50 billion are at grave risk of chronic coastal flooding by 2050, according to a new analysis by Zillow and Climate Central.
By 2100, the crisis deepens. As the ice caps continue to melt in the wake of global warming, experts project that 81,152 Bay Area homes with a current value of more than $96 billion, may be swamped. If greenhouse gas emissions go unchecked and seas continue to rise as expected, a wide swath of Bay Area real estate will be endangered. Coveted beach houses may well turn into disasters.
“This research suggests that the impact of climate change on the lives and pocketbooks of homeowners is closer than you think. For home buyers over the next few years, the impact of climate change will be felt within the span of their 30-year mortgage,” said Skylar Olsen, Zillow’s director of economic research and outreach, in the report.
“Without intervention, hundreds of thousands of coastal homes will experience regular flooding and the damage will cost billions. Given that a home is most people’s largest and longest-living asset, it takes only one major flood to wipe out a chunk of that long-growing equity. Rebuilding is expensive, so it’s doubly tragic that we continue to build brand new units in areas likely to flood.”
NEWPORT, R.I. — The Point, a waterfront neighborhood here, is one of the largest, best preserved and most important Colonial-era communities in the United States. Its grid of 18th-century streets contains scores of houses built before the American Revolution, and dozens more that are almost as old.
“It’s incredible to walk around a neighborhood like this that is so intact,” Mark Thompson said one morning this spring as he strolled along Washington Street, past the Jahleel Brenton Counting House, the 200-year-old home of a prosperous merchant. “There is a very organic feel to the neighborhood.”
Mr. Thompson heads the Newport Restoration Foundation, one of the organizations that in recent decades have purchased and restored many of Newport’s historic properties, saving them from the tourism development that has overtaken much of the city’s waterfront.
Today, the neighborhood faces a new threat. The Point sits only a few feet above sea level, and because of climate change, the ocean is rising. So people have been thinking again about how to preserve the neighborhood.
The Invading Sea is a non-partisan source for news, commentary and educational content about climate change and other environmental issues affecting Florida. The site is managed by Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. Read more