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NOAA study shows sea-level rise drastically increasing, San Diego impacted

Posted at 6:12 PM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 14:47:49-05

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that sea-level rise will increase by up to 12 inches nationally in the next 30 years, the same amount it's increased in the last 100 years.

The Gulf Coast, especially Texas and Louisiana, will get hit hardest.

The west coast of the United States is on the lower end of the increase, with between four and eight inches of rising expected by 2050. However, there are other factors at play that could make flooding worse in Southern California.

RELATED: NOAA warns sea levels will rise dramatically in U.S. in the next 30 years

Laura Engeman, Coastal Resilience Specialist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, was one of the practitioner reviewers of NOAA’s research. She says in San Diego, flooding is expected to worsen because of a combination of this sea-level rise and other phenomenons already occurring, including high tides, warm ocean waters, and high surf. It is not necessarily because of rain events.

“Sea level is a stressor, but the result is flooding and the reason we flood is what we call stacks, so sea-level rise, plus it’s a higher tide, plus we’ve got ocean warming because we’ve got a big El Nino or elevated water temperatures, plus we’ve got waves. So if we have combinations of those things happening more often, we’re going to see flooding more often,” she said.

Engeman mentions Imperial Beach as one of the flood-prone problem spots, plus a few North County beaches including Oceanside.

She says NOAA’s study is important because it gives a confident prediction of the next 30 years, so it is important to take action. One of the results she hopes will come from the data is better planning of coastal roadways and parking lots, which have the potential to flood.

“Now we have pretty good science in this report to make what I would say are some pretty hefty decisions that cost millions of dollars and are going to require a lot of planning and permitting and lead time,” Engeman said, adding that action needs to happen now.

“Waiting is not really an option because as I mentioned before, even though they aren’t these really big scary numbers, that type of deterioration of our shoreline is going to increase our overall risk faster.”

In the near future, she advises coastal communities to find ways to mitigate coastal flooding, including building resilient beaches, buffering beach hazards, and giving recovery time after storms. Long term, cities, and leaders need to plan better coastal roads and public transportation to the beach, action should start planning now because of the time and money it takes to put together large-scale projects like this.

Engeman adds that while this study shows confidence in what will happen to sea-level rise in the next 30 years, beyond that is not ascertained. If people take action now to decrease emissions, there is hope that the issue will not continue to change so drastically in the decades to come.

The study states that “current and future emissions matter. About 2 feet (0.6 meters) of sea-level rise along the U.S. coastline is increasingly likely between 2020 and 2100 because of emissions to date. Failing to curb future emissions could cause an additional 1.5 - 5 feet (0.5 - 1.5 meters) of rising for a total of 3.5 - 7 feet (1.1 - 2.1 meters) by the end of this century.”

“If we’re reactive then we’re never going to have the financial capacity or the human capacity to really deal with this type of events or these more frequent events as time goes on."

Several government agencies contributed to the report, including NASA, EPA, USGS, DoD, FEMA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.