January 17, 2009

East Coast Threatened By Increasingly Rising Sea Levels

The Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday rising seal levels on the United States' mid-Atlantic coast are happening faster than the global average because of global warming.

The continued rise is threatening the future of coastal communities.

The EPA released a report detailing coastal waters from New York to North Carolina have crept up by an average of 0.09 to 0.17 inches a year, compared with an average global increase of 0.07 inches a year.

The report was commissioned by the Climate Change Science Program and said that sea levels along the East Coast rose about a foot over the past century.

The mid-Atlantic region was the major focus of the report because it "will likely see the greatest impacts due to rising waters, coastal storms, and a high concentration of population along the coastline," the agency said.

The EPA also said that higher sea levels threaten to erode beaches and drastically change the habitats of species in the area, often at a pace too fast for species to adapt and survive.

"A higher sea level provides an elevated base for storm surges to build upon and diminishes the rate at which low-lying areas drain," the report found.  Communities in the area are at greater risk of flooding due to the surges.

Flood damage is far more likely in the future as higher sea levels gradually erode and wash away dunes, beaches and wetlands that serve as a protective barrier. Homes and businesses might soon be closer to the water's edge.

The report said rising sea levels have implications beyond the mid-Atlantic region.

The EPA said that ports challenged by rising waters could slow the transport of goods across the country, and disappearing beaches could hurt resorts and affect tourism revenue, damaging an already fragile U.S. economy.

"Movement to the coast and development continues, despite the growing vulnerability to coastal hazards," the EPA said.

Sea levels are rising at an accelerated rate and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that by the end of the century, global sea levels could be seven to 23 inches higher.

The EPA along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey, who contributed to the report, said federal, state and local governments should step in now to prepare for the rising seas.

The agencies said governments should protect residents through policies that preserve public beaches and coastal ecosystems and encourage retrofits of buildings to make them higher.

The report also suggested that engineering rules for coastal areas used today are based on current sea levels and will not suffice in the future and that flood insurance rates could also be tweaked to accommodate risk from rising sea levels.


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