Study co-author: Press wrong on sea-level rise

Regarding the recent Press editorial, “Good news — Jersey Shore will still be habitable in 2100”:

In criticizing the study I co-authored for the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Press editorial is fundamentally wrong about the future rate of sea level rise. Decades of sea level rise observations and numerous climate models overwhelmingly lay out the facts.

Over the past 25 years, sea levels rose at a pace double the 20th century average, and studies show it continues to accelerate. Ice sheets have been melting more rapidly than predicted, and our understanding about the sensitivity of the Antarctic Ice Sheet has grown. These changes are reflected in the sea level rise projections used in our scientific study, “Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for US Coastal Real Estate,” which were taken from the 2014 National Climate Assessment (NCA) — a report by 13 government agencies assessing the state of climate science. We analyzed an intermediate scenario projecting about 4 feet of sea level rise by the century’s end — in line with what New Jersey’s guidance suggests is the “likely range” of the rise — and determined that nearly 25,000 homes in the state are at risk of chronic flooding, or flooding the equivalent of every other week, on average, by 2035. This could greatly impact daily life along the Jersey Shore.

We also analyzed a higher-end scenario projecting 6.5 feet of sea level rise by the year 2100, which could become more likely if ice loss continues accelerating. In fact, scientists have begun examining the possibility that sea levels will rise even higher, as evidenced by the 2018 NCA including a scenario of more than 8 feet of rise by the century’s end.

A fact-based perspective of sea level rise does paint a daunting picture of our future, particularly for the Jersey Shore. But dismissing facts to assuage our fear doesn’t protect residents and their homes. Instead, it distracts us from the critical investments we must make: reducing our global warming emissions urgently to minimize future sea level rise and making communities more resilient to rising seas.

Kristina Dahl

San Francisco

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