Seattle, like every waterfront human settlement on the planet, is at risk from sea level rise caused by global warming. In recent months it has become increasingly clear that a 2007 estimate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of a 1.9-foot SLR by 2100 was far too conservative. According to more recent studies, the midrange estimate is now closer to five feet.

As I wrote previously, sea level rise is a complicating factor in the design of a new seawall for Seattle's central waterfront. Earlier this week, the city  selected a team led by Tetra Tech to explore design alternatives for the seawall. It will be interesting to see how the threat of sea level rise will be accounted for in the proposed designs.

Fortunately, even in the worst-case scenario, most of Seattle is at a high enough elevation that it won't affected. Not so where I am right now in sunny Florida, the most at-risk state in the U.S.

As shown in the map below, large swaths of coastal Florida would be underwater if sea level rose by by two meters (6.5 ft.). Scientists who have modeled climate change's impact on Florida estimate that with just a 27-inch rise in sea level, the state would lose ten percent of its land and 1.5 million people would lose their homes.



Being a climate change "enthusiast," as a visitor here in Clearwater Beach (just north of St. Petersburg), I can't help obsessing over what might happen to this place in 50 or 100 years if current trends continue. Though I guess the answer's pretty simple: it will be gone.

The photo below shows a clump of new high-rise residential buildings sitting right on the beach in Clearwater. I'm guessing that climate change was not a frequent topic of discussion in the condo sales offices.


Mandalay Beach Club and SandPearl on Clearwater Beach, FL (click image to enlarge)

Those buildings are concrete frame construction atop ~60-foot piles, so even if they're inundated with water, they'll probably stay standing, even empty, for a very long time. It's all so Waterworldian.

But that apocalyptic future is not a foregone conclusion. We still have the opportunity to abate climate change and its potentially catastrophic impacts if we start taking aggressive action now to reduce CO2 emissions.