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Interactive Map: How Sea Level Rise Could Swamp Coastal Communities

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Oracle's headquarters in Redwood Shores is built on landfill in an area that was once marsh. (Molly Samuel/KQED with aerial support from LightHawk)

Oracle’s headquarters in Redwood Shores is built on landfill in an area that was once marsh. (Molly Samuel/KQED with aerial support from LightHawk)

Rising seas will likely lead to unprecedented flooding along parts of California’s coast within 20-60 years, according to new research by Climate Central.

Driven by climate change, global sea levels have already risen several inches over the past century.

To help people learn about flooding risks in their communities, Climate Central has released a new version of an online tool that explores flood risks by zip code.

Using an interactive map, Bay Area residents can zoom in on their region to find out if flooding will impact their homes as well as nearby schools, power plants, and hospitals. The “Surging Seas” website includes an interactive map, graphics, and other information to help people better understand the potential risks of sea level rise.

The online tool also highlights who will be affected by severe flooding. Ngoc Nguyen of New America Media, which collaborated on the interactive tool, says that low-income and communities of color will be most impacted by sea level rise. “We found that communities are responding, but there is a dangerous information gap about sea level rise and policies to address it among impacted ethnic communities,” says Nguyen.

In the map below, you can adjust the blue water level slider to see how rising water will affect coastal land. But don’t crank the slider up to 10 just yet. According to Dr. Ben Strauss of Climate Central, setting the water level to 3 feet will give a more realistic view of Bay Area flooding risks in the next few decades.  Zoom in on San Mateo County and you can see how it could be ground zero for flooding in the Bay Area.

Using projected sea level rise and historic storm data, Climate Central’s research found that floods would reach greater than 3 feet above the high tide line every year by 2060 at study sites from San Diego to Los Angeles, and by 2070 in San Francisco.

According to Strauss, the interactive map should not be taken as a specific prediction of what is to come, but rather as an indication of future flood risk.  Drawing on data from more than 10 federal agencies, Climate Central is creating tools for every coastal state in the U.S.

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About the Author ()

Liz Roth-Johnson received her B.A. degrees in Molecular & Cell Biology and Music from UC Berkeley and recently finished her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at UCLA, where she studied early development in fruit flies. Outside of the lab, Liz co-founded the K-8 science and engineering outreach program BEAM at UCLA and has worked extensively with the public outreach program Science & Food. Liz is delighted to be joining KQED Science as a 2014 AAAS Mass Media Fellow.
  • Steve Case

    Liz Roth-Johnson reports:

    “3 feet will give a more realistic view of Bay Area flooding risks in the next few decades

    Climate Central’s research found that floods would reach greater than 3 feet above the high tide line every year by 2060 at study sites from San Diego to Los Angeles, and by 2070 in San Francisco.”
    ***

    The San Francisco tide gauge
    http://www.psmsl.org/data/obtaining/stations/10.php
    tells us that since 1855 the rate of sea level rise has been 1.4 mm/yr and for the last 30 years that rate has slowed to 0.7 mm/yr

    Besides tide gauges, satellites also assess sea level and the Raw data available here
    http://sealevel.colorado.edu/
    tells that from 1992 to 2003 the rate was 3.5 mm/yr and from 2004 to 2013 the rate decreased to 2.8 mm/yr.

    In order to get to 3 feet by 2070 in San Francisco, the current trend needs to reverse and the rate of sea level rise must increase to over 16 mm/yr for the next 56 years.

    Anyone with some curiosity and modest Excel skills can verify those numbers.

    Steve Case
    Milwaukee, WI

    • Jack Wolf

      Just wait for the winds to change with the next El Nino. All that water that has bedeviled Asia comes to our back yard. And, have you bothered to check out the source of all this extra water? Things are clearly melting all over the place and it’s accelerating. But, I guess that doesn’t quite fit into your very imperfect interpretations and so you ignore that. So, if you don’t mind, I prefer to get my science from the science guys, like those at NASA or the Met.

  • Jack Wolf

    Why does the title say “Could” when clearly it’s happening now?