Our coastal cities and islands are under threat from the rising sea levels caused by climate change. By 2050, it is predicted that New York City will be flooded by six feet of water and some pacific islands, like Nuatambu, were swallowed by the rising sea level. There is no clear way to prevent the impacts a raised sea level will have on these cities or how to prepare for the consequences to come. However, there are some solutions scientists are trying to implement to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels. One of the methods they are hoping will help is the living shoreline. A living shoreline is a shore-protecting technique that utilizes mostly natural materials. There are different types of living shorelines to accommodate different types of coasts and an important quality of the living shoreline is that they are not too disruptive of the existing ecosystem.
The different types of living shorelines can be seen here:
However, issues do arise with this solution. Many large cities will not be able to build these types of shorelines into their existing infrastructure. For example, New York City could build a bulkhead around lower Manhattan, but they run the risk that the waves will either erode the wall and cause it to crumble or the sea level will rise over the wall, rendering it useless. Similarly, Florida already has marshes covering a majority of their northern coasts, but they are still at risk from flooding. Another issue that arises is islands would not benefit from a living shoreline. They simply do not have enough land to implement the living shoreline so another solution would have to be used. Living shorelines are not a long-term solution, but they will be able to protect our coastal cities until we are able to either halt or at least slow down the rise in sea level.
Another way cities and scientists are trying to protect coasts from rising sea level is by building canals throughout the city. This way, water would move throughout the city rather than being pushed up against a solid wall like a bulkhead. In Boston after Hurricane Sandy, a proposal was brought to the city to build canals throughout the city. The canals would move the water into low-lying back alleys and drain them throughout the city instead of letting it impact one place- more like a controlled flood. However, that kind of project comes with many questions like how they would build such a project, how deep the canals would need to be, and how effective this would all be if the canals proved to be too shallow in fifty or so years. A lot of the “solutions” people are coming up with are only going to temporarily fix the issue. While this is not effective for the long-term, it gives scientists more time to try to test out new ideas that could be more lasting.
The final and longstanding solution is artificial islands.
Artificial islands are man-made islands built to withstand waves, currents, high winds and can be built relatively easily. They are the best solution to rising sea levels because they are not affected by rising sea levels after they are finished. It solves the issue of where to put people displaced by hurricanes and flooding. They would include solar panels and wind farms to power them and make them completely self-sustainable. Some risks and issues that come with artificial islands are the risks of hurricanes, whether they can only be built in warmer climates and how they would manage waste. Nevertheless, these floating islands seem to be the best bet in the face of rising sea level.
The rise in sea levels is the effect of three primary causes: thermal expansion, melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, and ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica. Thermal expansion is direct result of global warming and the only way to combat it would be to lower the emissions we currently put out. The melting of glaciers and polar ice caps are also a direct result of global warming, but there is no way to reverse the effect. We will need to adjust our lives to the rising sea level and lower the temperature of the water to cut risk. The final cause is ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica which means the water from those two poles is streaming into the ocean at a faster rate than normal. Coupled with thermal expansion and the extra water from the glaciers means the sea level has risen substantially in the last decade. Additionally, we really need to think about what we are going to do about the rising sea levels and what would happen if we did not change a thing. Another issue is the many islands that do not have the means of mitigating the effects rising sea level brings.