According to new research, about 3.7 million Americans live within a few feet of high tide and risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in the coming decades due to the sea level rise caused by global warming.
Scientists say those greenhouse gases our society regularly pumps into the air are causing the planet to warm and its land ice to melt into the sea. The sea itself is absorbing most of the extra heat, which causes the water to expand and thus contributes to the rise.
The ocean has been rising slowly and relentlessly since the late 19th century, one indicator that the climate of the earth is changing. The average global rise has been about eight inches since 1880, but the local rise has been higher in some places where the land is also sinking, as in Louisiana and the Chesapeake Bay region.
Many scientists expect a further acceleration as the warming of the planet continues. The rise appears to have accelerated lately to a rate of about a foot per century, and one estimate suggests the ocean could rise a foot over the next 40 years, though that calculation is not universally accepted among climate scientists.
Sea level rise has already cost governments and private landowners billions of dollars as they have pumped sand onto eroding beaches and repaired the damage from storm surges.
Several insurance companies still offer flood insurance for residents in areas considered at high risk from the likelihood of flooding, particularly during storm and hurricane season.
New York received its share of flooding during Hurricane Irene in 2011
Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc along the Eastern Seaboard as the storm made its way up the coast on the weekend of Aug. 26-28, 2011. At the height of the storm, there were at least four million people without electricity.
Flooding in the East Coast states was widespread with many areas receiving more than eight inches of rain.
In New York, the hamlet of East Durham recorded 13.30 inches of rain. The storm surge along the coast of New York reached 4 to 5 feet.
Battery Park recorded the sixth-highest water level ever, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Frank Strait.
Scientists argue against future coastal developments
Federal taxpayers also heavily subsidize coastal development when the government pays to rebuild infrastructure destroyed in storm surges and picks up much of the bill for private losses not covered by insurance. For decades, coastal scientists have argued that these policies are foolhardy, and that the nation must begin planning an orderly retreat from large portions of its coasts, but few politicians have been willing to embrace that message or to warn the public of the rising risks.
Only in a handful of places have modest steps been taken to prepare. New York City is one: Pumps at some sewage stations have been raised to higher elevations, and the city government has undertaken extensive planning. But the city, including substantial sections of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, remains vulnerable, as do large parts of Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.