With a zombie invasion dominating most end-of-the-world theories, destruction by a rise in sea level seems hardly as dramatic. Yet researchers are predicting this may not be so far-fetched. According to Texas A&M University researcher and one of the state’s leading coastal development experts, sea-level rise is not the type of looming coastal natural hazard that announces itself with the roaring bravado of a hurricane, but it is there, in the details of the storm, and will only get worse in the absence of public sentiment to address the issue.
Sea level along the Texas Gulf Coast is rising by a fraction of an inch each year, but this increase is expected to accelerate and possibly inundate one of the state’s most profitable and environmentally diverse regions. As a first step in addressing the problem at the state level, The University of Texas’s Bureau of Economic Geology and Energy Institute recently released a report from a workshop it held last year at the university’s Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas to identify the current status of sea level rise along the Texas Gulf Coast and to assess risks to the region’s ecosystems, communities, and economy.
The report, “The Risk of Rising Sea Level: Texas Universities Ready and Able to Help Coastal Communities Adapt” presents the findings of the workshop’s 28 participating scientists from six of Texas’s leading academic institutions, including Texas Sea Grant, along with representatives from the nonprofit, governmental, and private sectors. The report goes on to cite a recent study by Entergy, a power-generating utility based in Louisiana that serves East Texas, which estimated that the current value of Gulf Coast energy assets is $800 billion.
Sea-level rise is not a “someday” event. It is already a fact of life in Texas. Current data show coastal water levels are rising about one-fifth of an inch per year, which is about five times the rate seen during the previous 4,000 years and one of the highest rates reported globally, according to the report. It goes on to state that the current rate of sea-level rise in Texas is expected to accelerate further, doubling or even tripling by the end of the 21st century as a warming atmosphere fuels further expansion of the oceans and threatens to melt significant portions of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.
In fact by 2100, much of the Texas coast will most likely be under at least a foot of water and as much as six feet of water.
The rising Gulf of Mexico will directly impact Texas’s 18 coastal counties that account for less than six percent of the state’s landmass but are home to almost a quarter of its 2010 population. According to the report, Texas’ coastal population is growing more than twice as fast as the rest of the state.
Many of these issues are also discussed in Richard A. Davis, Jr.’s book, Sea-Level Change in the Gulf of Mexico. The book examines various causes and effects of rising and falling sea levels in the Gulf of Mexico, beginning with the Gulf’s geological birth over 100 million years ago, and focusing on the last 20,000 years, when global sea levels began rising as the glaciers of the last major ice age melted.
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