Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Surging Seas: interactive map shows climate change-induced sea levels and surge

There's a very interesting (and disturbing) website anyone living in the United States should check out.  It was first brought to my attention by Deb Castellana, Director of Communications for the Sylvia Earle Alliance-Mission Blue.  The website is called Surging Seas and is the brainchild of Climate Central, an organization dedicated to disseminating information about climate change.

Surging Seas is an interactive map-based site that shows the impact of rising sea levels along the U.S. coasts.  You can select a coastal city or region and see a map that shows the expansion of sea levels in increments of one feet at a time.  If you live on the west or east coast or along the Gulf of Mexico, you can see your neighborhood and what becomes of it as water levels rise.

One might view the map with a sea level rise of one foot and decide, "Well, that's interesting.  But that much of a rise in sea level won't happen for many, many years."  True, rising sea levels are gradual, but add to that high tides and a storm surge, as we had experienced recently with Hurricane Sandy, and you begin to see the level of exposure we face.  Climate change not only impacts sea levels but also the currents and winds that influence the severity of storm conditions.

I tried the map out on my hometown area of Orange County.  I was surprised to see popular Balboa and swank Lido Islands, right off of Newport Beach, get swallowed up and nearby Huntington Beach residential communities were inundated with a 4 to 5 foot storm surge.  

The Surging Seas website provides lots of background information on how the maps were generated using proven, available data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other scientific resources.  That's what is disturbing - it's not a wild-eye, scare-your-pants-off fabrication.  It's based on hard facts easily available.

What people in coastal metropolitan areas might fear as a possible danger (although already having proven itself to be real in the Gulf and now the Eastern Seaboard), is a daily reality for many island nations dealing with climate change.  Countries like the Seychelles, Kiribati and others are already wrestling with the social, political, and economic implications of literally going under permanently at some point in the future.

How do we prepare ourselves now by stemming climate change while also bracing ourselves for the effects it will bring before any reversal of fortune takes effect?  With each swell crashing along the shore, the question begs for an answer.

Source: Surging Seas
Source: Climate Central

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