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Report: Sea Level Rise May Permanently Alter Coastal Communities

Jim Cole
Heavy surf breaks over the seawall during a winter storm, Hampton, N.H.

Roads and railroads flooded, and beaches destroyed. This could be the reality for communities near Long Island Sound, and the East and Hudson Rivers if projections in a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation report bear out.

The projections display a range of possibilities for just how high the sea level will rise around Long Island and New York. On the high end, by the end of the century, the sea level could rise more than six feet.

Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, says those projections will need to be considered by builders and homeowners.

“That is going to have a significant effect on plans for construction, restoration of beaches and all kinds of coastal property,” Gerrard says.

It’s not automatic that those higher projections will bear out because it depends on the level of greenhouse gas emissions and the melting of ice in Greenland and Antarctica.

Gerrard says efforts to control these variables were on the right path under President Obama but are in peril under President Trump, who has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“That’s going to inhibit efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the climate change that is happening, and it’s going to inhibit the scientific studies that are going to allow us to have a clearer understanding of what’s happening and why.”

Gerrard says communities that aren’t right on the coast are vulnerable to higher levels of storm surge. That could mean flooding further inland that would endanger homes and impede transportation on roads or by rail.