A new study by United States Geological Survey researchers examines how future coastal storms and waves will affect California’s shoreline via erosion and flooding in conjunction with sea-level rise. And it puts numbers on the cost and people affected by California’s future storms and waves: about $150 billion in property and 600,000 people by 2100. “Bay Area communities account for two-thirds of the projected impacts across the state over the next century,” explains lead author Patrick Barnard. “Many communities, such as Foster City, are vulnerable to extreme storms today, and that vulnerability will increase dramatically over the next few decades, even with just several inches of sea-level rise.” If nothing is done to prepare the coast, sea level rise pushing coastal storms and flooding further inland will produce damage that is many times greater (in terms of economic cost) than California’s recent destructive wildfire seasons, or the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, with effects expected as early as 2040. “Projected annual impacts across California by the end of the century are equivalent to the landfall of a major hurricane,” says Barnard. “We have built up so much of our infrastructure right along the margins of a dynamic water body with rising sea levels, and on reclaimed land that is sinking. Even without climate change we have placed ourselves in harm’s way. Sea level rise is further exacerbating that risk.”

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Sea level rise combined with future coastal storms will be costlier and more destructive to California than earthquakes or wildfires.

A new study by United States Geological Survey researchers examines how future coastal storms and waves will affect California’s shoreline via erosion and flooding in conjunction with sea-level rise. And it puts numbers on the cost and people affected by California’s future storms and waves: about $150 billion in property and 600,000 people by 2100. “Bay Area communities account for two-thirds of the projected impacts across the state over the next century,” explains lead author Patrick Barnard. “Many communities, such as Foster City, are vulnerable to extreme storms today, and that vulnerability will increase dramatically over the next few decades, even with just several inches of sea-level rise.” If nothing is done to prepare the coast, sea level rise pushing coastal storms and flooding further inland will produce damage that is many times greater (in terms of economic cost) than California’s recent destructive wildfire seasons, or the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, with effects expected as early as 2040. “Projected annual impacts across California by the end of the century are equivalent to the landfall of a major hurricane,” says Barnard. “We have built up so much of our infrastructure right along the margins of a dynamic water body with rising sea levels, and on reclaimed land that is sinking. Even without climate change we have placed ourselves in harm's way. Sea level rise is further exacerbating that risk.”

About the author

Isaac Pearlman covers sea level rise, flooding, and other topics for ESTUARY. A Bay Area native, Isaac's writing is informed by his master's degree in environmental science, as well as many adventures from living and working in South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia. His stories and essays have been featured in Earth Island Journal, the Progressive Populist, and Ecosystems among other outlets. https://isaacpearlman.wordpress.com

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