by Nancy Truherimage1.jpg
Retreat from a Rising Sea
Orrin H. Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey, 2016

The authors had a family connection to a beach-front vacation house. A concrete slab is all that remains of it, after two big hurricanes hit in 1969 and 2005. The Pilkeys learned that even after destructive events, people’s desires to live next to the beach are a big hurdle to any response to sea level rise. In addition, state-level coastal management programs have gradually decreased since the 1980s. Meanwhile, government subsidies have contributed to the rise of expensive coastside homes, hotels, and condominiums.

Even now, sea level rise, combined with major storms, has caused enormous damage and risk to low-lying cities and other residential areas. Examples of such cities are Miami, Florida, and Jakarta, Indonesia. Underlying Miami is very porous and permeable limestone, such that water rises into the city, whether or not seawalls are present. Areas at risk from sea level rise around the world are, for example, Kivalina, Alaska, Recife, Brazil, and the entire countries of Bangladesh and the Netherlands. People are vulnerable to food insecurity, illness, injury, and death. Many will flee as refugees.

Sea level rise, current and future, results from a number of factors, including increase in the volume of the oceans caused by climate-change related heat, and the melting of the world’s glaciers and ice sheets (Greenland and Antarctica). Additional factors include subsidence of river-delta land and increased runoff from land due to decrease of water absorption and the increase of impervious surfaces in cities and towns.

We really have only two choices regarding sea level rise in nonurban shoreline locations. We can plan now for a methodical retreat, or later, chaotically, in response to devastating storms. Funding will not be available in the future to save tourist communities, since it will be needed to defend the world’s big cities.

The good news is that we now understand a great deal about all this. Local and national governments have begun to take appropriate steps for adaptation to sea-level rise. But more can be done, and the book provides details. “Neither time nor tide is in our favor”.

Orrin H. Pilkey is an Emeritus Professor in the Duke University Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences. Family members: Linda Pilkey-Jarvis is a geologist at the Washington State Department of Ecology, and Keith C. Pilkey is a judge and coauthor with Orrin H. Pilkey of “Global Climate Change: A Primer.”