Sea Level Rise Puts Freeways at Risk

sea level riseWhat are impacts of sea level rise and what are the state, region and municipalities doing? That and other climate change topics were discussed at Bay Area League Day. Videos of sessions are available here.

How high will sea level rise and by when? Both are still very uncertain. As ice melts in Greenland and Antarctica the sea will rise. Prominent researchers estimate sea level rise to be 1 to a maximum of 1.8 meters (3.3 to 6 feet) by 2100. But the authors admit that there is significant uncertainty, particularly in melt rates for West Antarctic glaciers. Just after the estimate was published, other work showed that the Amundson Sea sector of West Antarctica is in an “irreversible state of decline”, with nothing stopping glaciers from melting into the ocean. Melting of this sector alone would add about 4 feet (1.2 meters) to sea level rise. So an increase of sea level of nearly 10 feet (3 meters) by 2100 is possible. And if not by 2100 then soon thereafter.

The figure above shows our area for the more conservative estimate of two meter sea level rise. Interstates 580-80 are flooded along most of their route. The rail line for freight and Amtrak is partially flooded. Golden Gate Fields and Aquatic Park are flooded, and water is approaching many businesses and facilities, including Berkeley’s transfer station.

Scary? At first, but it doesn’t have to be. Two things to keep in mind. First, we will know much more about the extent and rate of sea level rise in the coming decades. Second, as we make plans, we need to think of a different future. Maybe we’ll have self-driven cars. Maybe cars will be a different size and shape. Maybe we won’t want big asphalt freeways.

We’re already building a more beautiful and sustainable city in Berkeley, and the state and region are well ahead in planning. Our new future can be not only cleaner, it can be literally greener, more efficient, and beautiful.

Diz Swift

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