Coastal societies must adapt to the reality of rising sea levels and more frequent coastal flooding, argues Dr John Church.
Today there are more than 140 million people and a trillion dollars in infrastructure in the first one metre above high tide level around the world.
Coastal areas (people, infrastructure and the environment) are already affected by extreme events such as coastal flooding and coastal erosion. For example, Hurricane Katrina caused over $100 billion of damage and the loss of over 1,000 lives along the USA Gulf coast and cyclone Nargis resulted in the loss of well over 100,000 lives in Burma.
And just last week, Cyclone Yasi caused widespread damage and storm surge flooding along north Queensland’s coast.
These events remind us that coastal societies in both developed and developing nations are vulnerable to extreme coastal sea levels. This vulnerability will increase with rising sea level as a result of anthropogenic climate change.
With greenhouse gas emissions continuing to rise, it is becoming increasingly clear that modern coastal societies will need to adapt to rising sea levels. To cost effectively adapt, we need to know what to adapt to. How, why and where sea level has changed in the past, how it is changing now, and how it will change in the future.