UBC Graduate Research

Sea Level Rise Adaptation: Considering Rapid Climate Change and Limits to Economic Growth Shtull, Mirala Yaheli


Rising sea levels are threatening to inundate low lying communities, erode beaches, exacerbating existing risk of coastal flooding and creating flood risk in areas that were not considered at risk in the past. In developed areas, governments and landowners have responded to these threats by building dikes, seawalls and other shore protection structures. To date, very little developed land has been given up to the steadily rising sea. This report begins by describing the problem context, which centres on the phenomenon of sea level rise and coastal management planning. I highlight the fact that planning is operating according to two key misguided assumptions. The first is that sea levels will continue to rise gradually over the next century. This may not be the case. Rather, it is likely that human actions are forcing the climate system and thus the ecosphere into a period of rapid and nonlinear change. The concentration of atmospheric CO2 in January 2013 at Mauna Loa was 395.55 parts per million (ppm) (NOAA 2013), a new milestone in the rise of greenhouse gases (GHG). These levels have not occurred since the Pliocene era (5.3 – 2.6 million years ago). During that time period, average global temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than today and sea levels were 25+/-12 meters higher than in the 18th century (Glikson 2012). The scientific community warns of the possibility of crossing critical thresholds causing abrupt change. Sea levels could rise suddenly as opposed to the gradual rise observed over the past century.

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