Rising Sea Levels

November 12, 2020

As the warming climate poses an existential threat to earth’s many diverse environments, experts see its impacts run as deep as the oceans. 

The Climate Institute found that in the past 20 years, sea levels have risen almost 3 inches globally, an average of 1/8 inch per year. Like the increasing temperatures, the slow progression of these climate changes poses a dire threat to humans and all other areas of life.

While rising sea levels may seem like a distant and slow-moving issue, it poses an urgent and worsening threat, especially as it pertains to the Bay Area members.

“By the end of this century, global heating will cause sea levels around San Francisco Bay to rise three to six feet or more. Coupled with more extreme weather patterns, over six percent of San Francisco’s land (about four square miles), called the Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Zone, could be inundated by temporary or permanent flooding,” the San Francisco Planning organization remarked in their study on sea-level rise. 

The recent rise in sea levels is largely attributed to two factors: the melting of glaciers and ice sheets that contribute excessive water into the oceans and its expanding volume as it warms. 

The areas that will be most particularly impacted by this rise in sea levels host essential infrastructure and houses with more than 37,000 people. In the long term, this will have dire consequences for Bay Area residents. It threatens the stability of homes, roads, bridges, water supplies, power plants, and other frameworks. 

These effects may even go as far as into the water residents drink as rising sea levels may significantly contaminate underground freshwater sources. Such sources, known as aquifers, are important origins of necessary materials as they provide most of the world’s freshwater resources.

At some unknown point in the future, this area will likely be fully inundated by the sea. I say at some unknown point because we know sea level is rising, and we know it will rise at an accelerated rate, but we just don’t know how fast that will happen. It depends on how effective we as a species are at reducing the emissions and carbon dioxide we put into the air,” Will Travis, a sea-level rise consultant, said in a Q & A radio report

However, the impacts of these rising sea levels go further than structures and personal effects. Devastating changes may cause erosion, flooding water, and soil contamination and destroy habitats for various plants, fish, and other organisms. Higher water levels also may contribute to a higher impact of destructive storms that are pushed farther onto land.

Similarly, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted a recent report that saw a rise in flooding-related to sea level rise in the past 20 years. These enhanced risks of natural disasters ultimately pose a threat to virtually all forms of life. 

This threat extends broadly, as 40% of the population lives in relatively high population-density coastal areas. The Bay Area is particularly vulnerable to these changes, where rising sea levels function as an issue to individuals, environments, and economies alike. 

Despite this, policymakers are taking steps to prevent the worsening of this crisis. The 2016 Sea Level Rise Action Plan sets the vision for sea-level control and seeks to minimize the risks associated with rising sea levels.

Additionally, an executive order that guides design plans to conserve 30% of California’s coastal water and land by 2030 has been implemented into the Bay Area plans.

“California’s beautiful natural and working lands are an important tool to help slow and avert catastrophic climate change, and today’s executive order provides important new tools to take on this existential threat,” Governor Gavin Newsom said about the order.

Ultimately, the climate is at war with itself—and it is the role of its inhabitants to mend the crisis before it is too late.


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