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Feature: Preparing for Rising Sea Levels

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The following article, by David Zax, originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of ASEE’s Prism magazine.

We live in a warming world. Even if all burning of fossil fuels were to cease tomorrow, the build-up of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere is still severe enough that in 2100, the Earth is projected to be at least several degrees warmer than during the pre-industrial era. That warming brings with it certain hazards – droughts, the spread of infectious diseases, the extinction of species. But there’s one hazard in particular that will require an engineering response: the rise of sea levels.

Seas are expected to rise by at least a few inches by the end of this century, and possibly by as much as a meter – principally owing to the thermal expansion of the ocean but also because of melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. A few inches may not sound like much, but it’s enough to threaten a low-lying coast and is particularly troubling to regions within reach of a hurricane. What’s more, when you consider that about half of the population of the United States lives near the coast, even a modest amount of sea-level rise radically alters the calculus of flood protection along thousands of miles of shoreline.

“I have never addressed a larger challenge in my life,” says Robert Bea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. “This one, it just blows my mind.” Bea has studied both the New Orleans and Sacramento areas and notes frightening similarities. “I hope Arnold Schwarzenegger knows how to swim,” he says.

Read the entire article in Prism online

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One Response to “Feature: Preparing for Rising Sea Levels”

  1. This article is an opinion piece and has no place in an engineering education magazine. There are no facts cited to back up conclusions (seas will rise by as much as a meter) that feed on global warming hysteria. There is also no mention of the significant amount of supressed evidence that global warming and ice cap melting is a hoax. In the 70’s, Missouri had four of the top 11 heaviest snowfall seasons on record, including 76, 77, and 78. Does that mean Missouri was going through a state-wide cooling period? Or maybe the consumption of fossil fuels used to heat homes during the late 70’s and early 80’s is what caused the supposed global warming?
    Please, stick to facts.

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