Study: Miami and New Orleans Will Be Lost to Rising Sea Levels, No Matter What We Do

Though a handful of people continue to deny its existence, the consequences of climate change are becoming more and more severe with each passing day.

Take the issue of rising sea levels, for example. According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, Miami, New Orleans and a handful of other major cities are doomed to be swallowed up by rising sea levels, no matter what steps we take to try to save them.

In making their projections, the researchers looked at a number of different factors, including current levels of carbon emissions and the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which many experts say is irreversible.

After taking all of these factors into account, the researchers assigned each city a “lock-in date”. These dates represent the point beyond which, “the cumulative effects of carbon emissions likely commit them to long-term sea-level rise that could submerge land under more than half of the city’s population.” 

In other words, once a city reaches its lock-in date, it’s all but guaranteed to end up in a watery grave. “Norfolk, Virginia, for example, faces a lock-in date of 2045 under a scenario of unabated carbon emissions,” the study explains.

Unfortunately, a number of American cities — like Miami and New Orleans — have already gone past their lock-in dates.

sea level rising

“In our analysis, a lot of cities have futures that depend on our carbon choices but some appear to be already lost… And it is hard to imagine how we could defend Miami in the long run,”

said lead author Ben Strauss, who also serves as vice president for sea level and climate impacts at the nonprofit news organization Climate Central.

Miami sits at an extremely low elevation (just six feet above sea level), and much of its foundation is built on porous limestone. According to Strauss, these factors will likely seal Miami’s fate, despite the fact that the city has an extensive system of sea walls and levees.

Strauss said that New York is also at risk, and could potentially be unlivable by as early as 2085 in a worst-case scenario. In total, roughly 20 million Americans reside in areas identified as “at risk” by the study.

It’s not all bad news though. The study identified more than a dozen cities that could avoid a watery ending if drastic steps are taken to curb carbon emissions. reports:

A total of 14 cities with more than 100,000 residents could avoid locking in this century, including Jacksonville, Florida; Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach in Virginia; and Sacramento and Stockton in California.

However, when it comes to trying to prevent sea-level rise, time is of the utmost importance. Scientists have determined that if we fail to reduce our use of fossil fuels by the year 2100, the planet will face anywhere from 14-32 feet (4.3-9.9 meters) of sea-level rise.

The big question, of course, is how fast that rise will happen.

“Some of this could happen as early as next century. But it might also take many centuries,” Strauss told the AFP in a recent interview. He added,

“Just think of a pile of ice in a warm room. You know it is going to melt, but it is harder to say how quickly.”

Read more from Check out the study for yourself from PNAS.

Climate Central has also created a cool interactive map that lets you compare different versions of the future based on four potential emissions scenarios.


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