The variously employed catchphrase “triple threat” is finding new use as a means to describe the multifarious threats of global climate change for 40% of the United States’ population. These three antagonisms are heavy rainfall, storm surges and a general, pernicious rise in sea level along American coastlines. In a study recently published by the journal Nature Climate Change, these coming catastrophes are expected to cause “compound flooding” laying waste to low-lying, highly populated urban spaces encircling the nation.
NEW CORRELATION FOR CLIMATE CHANGE
It’s true that many previous studies have analyzed the correlation between the increase in flood rates and overall sea-level rise, this new study is first to investigate the causal links between primary and secondary effects of climate change in the US.
“When storm surge and heavy precipitation co-occur, the potential for flooding in low-lying coastal areas is often much greater than from either, in isolation,” the published study warns. But, as can be expected, “long-term sea level rise is the main driver for accelerated flooding.”
HISTORICAL CLIMATE CHANGE REVEALS BREAK FROM NATURE’S
The scientists responsible for this study compared recent findings to more dated data, sifting through the dredges of historical ecology to track tide levels and hurricanes. By recognizing the elements involved in simultaneous (or compound) disasters occurred, they found that a significant connection exists between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coastlines. The kicker here is that this is precisely where today’s compound flooding is increasing in frequency.
NEW YORK CITY’S CLIMATE CHANGE WILL QUICKEN, TOO
E.g., New York City’s risk of flooding from compounded ecological risks has more than doubled in the last 60 years. “If sea levels continued to rise, this would certainly have an effect on storm surges, and storm surges have an effect on compound flooding,” said Thomas Wahl, member of the University of South Florida and lead author of the study.
IT GETS WORSE (AGAIN)
Unfortunately, even if we dodge the bullet of serious sea levels’ rising, severe storms and massive floods will become more frequent, hailing the imminent arrival of major natural disasters in the most populated US cities on the coast, where almost 40% of Americans reside. What’s worse, if sea levels rise more than 20 feet, as per the study’s worst-case scenario, the aftermath will be spectacular. And in this case, that is not a good thing.
A CENTURY OF CHANGE, A SENSE OF COMING DAYS
Since the days of ecological records’ beginnings in 1880, temperatures worldwide have actually increased by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, the past century has seen the global average sea level increase by seven whole inches. This is expected to continue and accelerate over the next few decades because Antarctica’s floating ice shelves keep melting. These ice shelves are our only vanguard to glaciers and ice sheets threatening to enter our oceans.