Rising sea level threatens Bay Area airports

(KTSF by Jessie Liang)

California’s sea level is expected to rise about 3 feet by the end of the century, according to a report by the National Research Council. In the San Francisco Bay Area, three major airports and many areas along highway 101 could be at risk because of the rising sea level.

The report says the sea level off the U.S. west coast including Oregon, Washington, and northern California would likely rise 2 feet which is slower than Southern California.  However, an earthquake magnitude of 8 or greater in these areas could cause the sea level to rise suddenly over 3 feet.


What are residents’ concerns about rising sea levels?

“I believe it would cause problems, especially people live near at the water.”

“I mean in Pacifica, at least the amount of water would move closer to the housing that is actually near the shoreline.”

Stanford University Environmental Earth System Science Professor Robert Dunbar says the sea level rose about 6 to 7 inches in the last century. “It’s not very much but of course in the next century, we’re anticipating something like this over 3 feet. That’s quite a bit more,” said Dunbar.

In the Bay Area, a strong El Nino can magnify the effects of sea level rising such as big storms and high tides which can cause flood damage at three major airports. For instance, San Francisco International Airport could flood if the water level rises a little more than 1 foot in several decades, according to the report. Dunbar adds, “It’s very serious for San Francisco International Airport. Many of those runways would be unusable at high tide if sea level rises that amount.”

In addition, many areas of highway 101 along the bayshore might be at risk as well. The report sends a message to policymakers and urges them to take action on the city’s infrastructure at coastal or low-lying areas. Dunbar adds, “We could make it harder for people to build right on the coast and low-lying areas where they’re  building structures; their farms. It’s more likely to be damaged by sea level rising.”

Globally, the sea level rising rate is different by region but the main reason is global warming which causes ocean water to expand. The second factor is ice melting  in Greenland, Alaska and Antarctica.

Dunbar says that reducing CO2 is one of ways to slow down the sea level rising rate. According to the report, sea levels along the California coast are expected to rise up to 1 foot by 2030, 2 feet by 2050. On average across the globe, oceans could rise up to 9 inches in the next 20 years, 1.5 feet by 2050.

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