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What Does U.S. Look Like With 10 Feet of Sea Level Rise?

New research indicates that climate change has already triggered an unstoppable decay of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The projected decay will lead to at least 4 feet of accelerating global sea level rise within the next two-plus centuries, and at least 10 feet of rise in the end. 

What does the U.S. look like with an ocean that is 10 feet higher? The radically transformed map would lose 28,800 square miles of land, home today to 12.3 million people.

Click on the image above to check for threats from sea level rise and storm surge.


These figures come from Climate Central research published in 2012, analyzing and mapping every coastal city, county and state in the lower 48 states. (A next generation of research is currently under way.)

Cities with the Most Population
on Affected Land
CITY POPULATION
1.  New York City
2.  New Orleans
3.  Miami
4.  Hialeah, FL
5.  Virginia Beach
6.  Fort Lauderdale
7.  Norfolk
8.  Stockton, CA
9.  Metairie, LA
10.  Hollywood, FL
703,000
342,000
275,000
224,000
195,000
160,000
157,000
142,000
138,000
126,000
All cities
 

More than half of the area of 40 large cities (population over 50,000) is less than 10 feet above the high tide line, from Virginia Beach and Miami (the largest affected), down to Hoboken, N.J. (smallest). Twenty-seven of the cities are in Florida, where one-third of all current housing sits below the critical line — including 85 percent in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Each of these counties is more threatened than any whole state outside of Florida – and each sits on bedrock filled with holes, rendering defense by seawalls or levees almost impossible.

By the metric of most people living on land less than 10 ft above the high tide line, New York City is most threatened in the long run, with a low-lying population count of more than 700,000. Sixteen other cities, including New Orleans, La.; Norfolk, Va.; Stockton, Calif.; Boston, Mass.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Jacksonville, Fla.; are on the list of places with more than 100,000 people below the line. (Much of New Orleans is already below sea level, but is protected at today’s level by levees.)

Climate Central’s enhanced analysis paints a much more detailed pictured for completed states. For example, more than 32,000 miles of road and $950 billion of property currently sit on affected land in Florida. Threatened property in New York and New Jersey totals more than $300 billion. And New England states all face important risks.

The predicted sea level rise will take a long time to unfold. The numbers listed here do not represent immediate or literal threats. Under any circumstances, coastal populations and economies will reshape themselves over time. But the new research on West Antarctic Ice Sheet decay — and the amount of humanity in the restless ocean’s way — point to unrelenting centuries of defense, retreat, and reimagination of life along our coasts.

NEW YORK CITY
New York City projections showing water levels 10 feet above high tide line. Click on the map to explore.
 

ST. PETERSBURG
St. Petersburg, Fla., projections showing water levels 10 feet above high tide line. Click on the map to explore.
 

BOSTON
Boston projections showing water levels 10 feet above high tide line. Click on the map to explore.

 

Dr. Ben Strauss is Vice President for Climate Impacts and the Director of the Program on Sea Level Rise at Climate Central.

Comments

By john harkness
on May 13th, 2014

Thanks for covering this important story. Another area that will be severely affected by even a meter of sea level rise is the Chesapeake Bay area. But if we can look for a moment outside of the US:

Shanghai, China’s and the world’s most populated municipal area at about 24 million, is barely over four meters (~12 feet) in elevation. Almost all of it will be gone with a ten foot rise in sea level. Same for the almost the entire Chinese province to its north, Jiangsu, home to nearly 80 million souls. Tianjin, southern Bangladesh and Kolkata (Calcutta), among others, are also going to be devastated by these levels.

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By Brad Arnold (St Louis Park, MN 55416)
on May 13th, 2014

Like usual the numbers don’t reflect reality when it comes to what is going to happen.  With at least ten foot increase in sea level in the next 100 years (my opinion), you are going to get storm surges that are quite a bit bigger than that.  Furthermore the extra heat in the system virtually guarantees super storms with super storm surges.  If this doesn’t affect the value of beach front property, then they deserve to lose their shirts when they lose it to the ocean in the coming decades.

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By shineon (Louisville CO 80027)
on May 13th, 2014

Holy Crap - All of Logan International Airport (Boston) is underwater! Will they elevate the runways? Retrofit planes with water skis and use shuttle boats?

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By Luna
on May 13th, 2014

Honolulu?

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By Delia Cirino (Van Nuys, Ca. 91405)
on May 14th, 2014

I have property in Ocala, Florida which is about 100 feet above sea level.  The map of Florida is misleading since a 100 (m/l) ridge runs up the middle of the state beginning North of Orlando.  The entire state would not be inundated with water, but salt water seepage into it’s Natural Springs and private wells, in the years to come,  will be a prime concern.

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By Sarah Wells (Saco, Maine)
on May 14th, 2014

Doesn’t look good for the Boston theater district

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By Michael Sweet (Valrico Florida 33596)
on May 14th, 2014

Even this report is optimistic.  The maps only show the area that is inundated at high tide.  It does not count the waves and storm surge on top of the high tide.  There are always several feet of waves during storms even in protected areas.  Can you find out how low the lowest built out areas are in each area and add that much to your maps to show how far the waves will reach?  In protected areas it is a few feet but in exposed areas like Long Island it can be much more.

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By Teresa (Des Moines, IA, 50309)
on May 14th, 2014

DC is a little understated in terms of statistics. The area projected to be inundated does not contain many homes, therefore not much population. However, these areas hold key regional and national infrastructure (DCA airport, freeway connections/bridges, Metro bridges) as well as several military installations. Oh, and also our national monuments.

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By flexdoc (Port Jefferson NY)
on May 14th, 2014

The projected time frame is the year 2100. Reporting like this is alarmist and unnecessary.  I am more than certain but the year 2100 someone will figure out a way to protect these areas. I am so sick of alarmist crises reporting.

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By jp (fairbanks, ak)
on May 15th, 2014

Alarmist? You are funny.  Most of these are best possible scenario.  Look at New Orleans, the levies broke. The levies that someone like you in the early 20th century would have been “certain” to stop this level of inundation.

Reply to this comment

By Chris Stout (Salt Lake City, UT 84107)
on May 15th, 2014

Yes, and I’m sure the cost of it will be in the trillions of dollars. But the real question is why build something to protect these areas, when cutting the problem off at the source would be more cost effective?

Reply to this comment

By Ana Gonzalez (Boston, MA 01720)
on May 17th, 2014

Flexdoc, take a moment to consider that these very real changes are gradual. The seas won’t suddenly rise, boom! on New Year’s Eve 2099. That means my kids and grandkids, alive today, will all have to suffer these changes created by us, now. The “someone” you refer to, who has to figure out ways to protect these areas, is doing just that, now, but is being called “alarmist” . And why does it have to be “someone”? Why can’t it be you and I and all of us?

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By Henry Fnord (11121)
on May 15th, 2014

Well, looks like those of us in Canada will be alright, the water rise seems to stop abruptly at Maine! smile

Huzzah!

Reply to this comment

By thetammyjo (Bloomington, IN 47408)
on May 15th, 2014

I’d like to see world maps for the 4 feet prediction but am finding it difficult to discover.  Do you know where world maps with the 4 and 10 foot predictions can be found?

Reply to this comment

By Lindsay Harmon
on May 15th, 2014

@thetammyjo

Unfortunately, no such maps exist that are reliable, to our knowledge.

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By Terry Hickman (Omaha)
on May 15th, 2014

That shows where the water will go - it doesn’t show where the people will go. The central “high and dry” states will also be inundated - with people having to find another home once theirs is uninhabitable. The social/economic catastrophe might dwarf the aquatic one.

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By Brennan (APO AE 09128)
on May 16th, 2014

I’m confused.  Americans keep being told that relaxing immigration laws because will cause economic expansion in the US.  If allowing more unskilled workers into the US will bring economic expansion, wouldn’t the migration of the most productive Americans into the Heartland bring even greater economic expansion?  Someone (immigrants, probably) must build the houses for these migrants to live in, right?  Perhaps you should welcome the former shore-dwellers who will soon make Omaha the world’s largest financial and fashion center!

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By Andy (Austin, TX)
on May 15th, 2014

This is not alarmist. Galveston has a pretty good chance of being largely underwater with storm surge and high tide by 2020. There is no way they are going to be able to stop that.

Of course, the wisdom of building a city of 40,000 people on a barrier island made of shifting sand is questionable with or without sea level rise.

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By W Moore (St. Louis Mo. 63114)
on May 15th, 2014

Will the rivers rise 10 feet as well, ie the Mississippi etc.?

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By Philip Brzezinski (Waldron, MI 49288)
on May 15th, 2014

If there was any justice in this world, it would only affect the 1% and their 7+ figure ocean front homes…of course, the Feds will bail them out…

Reply to this comment

By Dave (Cary/NC/27513)
on May 15th, 2014

I wondered why North Carolina was ommited from the list, but then I remembered that our legislature declaired there is no global warming and thus no rising sea levels.    Don’t you wish you lived in NC where it was so simple to eliminate problems?

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By August Cardea (St. Petersburg, FL, 33713)
on May 16th, 2014

The maps tell only one tiny fraction of the story:
Sure, the sea level will rise.  Certainly, people will be displaced.  Absolutely, property values will plummet. 

But the food shortages, water shortages, drought and flood we will encounter along the way will make the simple facts of the rise in sea level pale in comparison to the scale of human misery we are bringing upon ourselves.  And it all could have been avoided.  That is the crime.

Reply to this comment

By Denis Rushworth (Dowell/MD/20629)
on May 16th, 2014

The predicted decline of the West Antarctic ice shelf is base on a computer model.  The actual data says that in recent years, the Antarctic ice cap has been increasing and is at an all-time high (in the satellite record).  Antarctic temperature has remained unchanged or declined steadily over the past 35 years (data bases differ).  If the ice cap continues its growth, sea level decline seems to be in order.

In the past 18 months global sea level, which has been rising since 1994 at a near steady rate of about 3.5 mm per year except for downward bumps in 1998 and 2011, has begun to decline. To reach a sea level 4 feet higher than today’s in 200 years, the rate of increase would have to ~double to about 6 mm per year beginning now. Will sea level continue to decline or will it reverse and begin a much faster rise?  Since I’m told that CO2-induced global warming began in the 1970’s, it seems that perhaps the existing rise rate of 3.5 mm per year is all there is.  Then of course one must consider non-CO2 causes for what is happening now.

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By David Jc (Vallejo)
on May 19th, 2014

U must have missed half of the latest NASA report on PBS Newshour 05/12/14: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/ice-sheet-antarctica-melted-past-point-return-nasa-says/ and possibly the 05/06/14 Newshour that included the effects of what’s happening:http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/white-house-report-warns-climate-change-will-directly-influence-lives-americans/

Moreover, our interglacial period is about done and any influences we have on that are already set and the new glacial period begins and last 40,000 yrs or more—aboutr 12,800 yrs ago a Mini-freeze engulfed Europe in just MONTHS and lasted about 1300 yrs as a result of the Gulf Stream slowing down… No one is suggesting that is happening, but it does say that things can happen extremely fast…

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By EvilDrDaddy (Cambridge UK)
on May 20th, 2014

The Antarctic continent is losing mass i.e. melting – which raises sea level and the rate is measured to be increasing.
The Antarctic sea ice extent is increasing, which has no effect on sea level.
The air above Antarctica is well below freezing but the sea surrounding it isn’t; melting is happening from the bottom up where ice meets sea. For the area in question the sea going all the way in.

See
http://www.skepticalscience.com/antarctica-gaining-ice-intermediate.htm
and for the latest results,
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/19/doubling-of-antarctic-ice-loss-revealed-by-european-satellite

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By totalwow (Gladwin, MI,48624)
on May 17th, 2014

I would think rivers and lakes as well as the entire state of Michigan would be under water as it is a bowl anyways.

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By Mary Harte (Berkeley)
on May 22nd, 2014

How difficult is it to add a feature that allows one to see the whole country’s coastline under sea level rise, with the major cities marked with dots and the lost area from the original coastline clearly defined?  That would have a far greater graphic impact for many readers…

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By Mike
on September 24th, 2014

Any reason why Hawaii is not listed on your Org site as part of the U.S.?

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