Wendy Koch, USA TODAY 9:53 p.m. EDT April 20, 2014
(Photo: U.S. Air Force via AP)
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With the click of a computer mouse, the potential risks of rising sea levels will soon be searchable — by ZIP code — for all U.S. coastal communities.
An online mapping tool will show how much sea levels are expected to rise in each area, as well as the number of residents and buildings that could be flooded. Initially launched in March 2012 for New York, New Jersey and Florida, it will expand to cover New England on Wednesday, the Pacific states later this spring and the rest of the coastal U.S. by the end of summer.
“This is a brave new world. Rising seas are posing a totally new challenge to American ingenuity,” says Ben Strauss, vice president for climate impacts at Climate Central, a non-profit group based in Princeton, N.J. It used private foundation funding to create the “Surging Seas” database. The results, based on data from more than 10 federal agencies, tell a sobering story.
In New York City, for example, different projections suggest sea
level will rise nearly a foot by 2040. But as storms come along in the future, there’s more than a one in three chance for a 6-foot flood by that year, Strauss says. That would be more than a foot higher than anything on record except Superstorm Sandy, which caused massive flood damage in Manhattan and parts of New Jersey in October 2012. A 6-foot flood level would be high enough to threaten the subway system again, Strauss says.
With the marking of Earth Day on Tuesday, “Surging Seas” is part of a new generation of free user-friendly tools, made possible by dramatic improvements in computing power and data availability, that show how local climates are changing as global temperatures rise. Another one, launched in February, allows people anywhere to see deforestation, which exacerbates global warming, in real time.
“It’s groundbreaking,” says Crystal Davis of World Resources Institute, a non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C. It spent more than two years working with Google and more than 40 other partners to build “Global Forest Watch.”
“It wasn’t possible to do this even a few years ago.”