Sharks in the Sewer

March 10, 2016

Global sea levels are rising at an astonishing rate—a pace that increases with each climbing degree of warmth that our planet experiences. The inevitability of saltwater influx means that in the future, humans will have to rethink, rebuild, and relocate infrastructural systems, potable water sources, and in some cases entire communities.

Human-contributed greenhouse gases have warmed the planet and global temperatures have jumped significantly since the Industrial Revolution. As the earth’s water has warmed and expanded, and as ice has melted, it has increased the volume of the oceans. And as a result, it seems that the oceans are rising at an accelerated pace—about one foot per century.

“Physics tells us that sea-level change and temperature change should go hand-in-hand,” says Robert E. Kopp, an earth scientist at Rutgers University and one of the authors of a recent study.

The upsurge of seawater threatens to flood homes and highways, inundate coastal towns, and contaminate drinking and irrigation water. And if the rate of sea rise itself doesn’t sound alarming, the volumetrics may. The world’s oceans are slope-sided rather than straight-sided vessels. This means that a one-inch rise translates to 50–100 lateral inches of coastal land. And a study published by the National Academy of Sciences predicts a rise of 1.6–4.3 feet by the end of this century.

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While this circumstance is already causing flooding and damage in many coastal cities, it has severe implications for the future wellbeing of millions of the earth’s inhabitants. According to Climate Central, about 216 million people currently live on land that will be below sea level or regular flood levels by 2100. Twelve nations have more than 10 million people living on land at risk from sea-level rise, including China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Japan.

Coastal towns worldwide will be forced to reengineer their infrastructural systems and perhaps relocate treatment plants, pipelines, highways, and potable water sources, to accommodate this saltwater insurgence.

How is your community preparing for global warming and sea rise?

How could an influx of saltwater affect your area’s infrastructure?

Is your water supply at risk?
About the Author

Laura Sanchez

Laura Sanchez is the editor of Distributed Energy and Water Efficiency magazines.

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