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Water Today Title June 29, 2022

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Update 2017/12/11
Sea Level Rise


This story is brought to you in part by Sourceia - Eco-houses

By Cori Marshall

Rising sea levels may have significant impacts on the human population, possibly displacing billions by century's end. It is not merely the direct effects of flooding that will have people on the move, the loss of infrastructure and means of distributing food and other essentials will add to the mass migration. Further, those that are displaced may be facing additional pressures in the areas where they end up.

We have looked at the impacts on the human population that are related to sea level rise, we change directions today and look at the environments that will be most affected by the rising waters, the coasts.

Last month non-profit organization Maribus gGmbH published World Ocean Review (WOR) 5, which focuses on these dynamic, diverse, and inviting regions of the world.

We spoke with Dr Nassos Vafeidis, Professor at the Geographical Institute, Kiel University in Germany, as well as head of the Institute's Coastal Risks and Sea Level Rise research group.

Vafeidis said that generally "it is a mystery, why coastal regions are developing faster in terms of population and assets compared to other regions." Coastal development may also depend "on financial motives, they provide access, [and] most of the world's commercial transport is done through shipping," he explained.

People are drawn to coastal areas, "we like the sea," Vafeidis said, "a [hotel] room with a garden view it's €80, with a view of the ocean it's €120."

In his work, and through his involvement with the research group, Vafeidis has looked at the increased risk of coastal flooding and erosion in the future in relation to sea level rise and has found that "socio-economic [impact] is equally, and in some cases more important than sea level rise."

He put this into context saying "the same flood today if it were to occur in a hundred years will likely affect more people," due to rising populations in coastal regions.

"We see trends of very rapid population development [on the coast] in most countries, which increases risk," Vafeidis said, though this does not necessarily translate to increased vulnerability.

Due to sea level rise, coastal areas are at risk from more massive storm surges, which are expected to be "a metre, or even more by the end of the century," Vafeidis said.

The other significant risks facing coastal regions of the world are anthropogenic. Vafeidis explained that "coastal population is increasing more rapidly than inland population and people bring assets with them, so basically it is the value that is at stake."

    "People are also causing land subsidence, by pumping water and oil, many megacities are subsiding faster than sea levels are rising."
    Dr Nassos Vafeidis, Geographical Institute Kiel University, Germany

Vafeidis underlined that "Tokyo subsided several metres in the 20th century, and Jakarta at the moment, iss ubsiding several centimetres a year which is more than the current rate of sea level rise." Basically "humans are increasing risk by settling at the coast."

Current literature paints a very negative picture of sea level, and Vafeidis believes this to be true for the most part. The Professor feels that impacts may not be as adverse "because people adapt." He owes this resilience to the fact that "people have been living on the coast for many years, they will find solutions."

It is difficult to predict how coastlines will be affected in the future due to the many variables at play, Vafeidis points to the "trend to protect densely populated areas, with dikes or barriers." He also believes that the trend to hard barriers "will continue in the future because it is economically efficient."

Flooding will be the most substantial impact stemming from sea level rise, there will also be "coastal erosion, possible loss of wetlands, and saltwater intrusion," Vafeidis explained.

Despite our best efforts "there is no standard way we can adapt to sea level rise," Vafeidis said, "hard protection is probably going to be the main option in densely populated areas."

"We are very likely going to see combinations of protection with accommodation," Vafeidis said, "people can live with flooding in some cases, or a planned retreat in the developed world." Whatever the impacts of sea level rise may look like those living on the coasts will have to adapt.

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