The impacts of rising sea levels go beyond the world's coastlines. As global warming continues and sea levels rise, storm surges will increase in intensity, destroying land further inland from the coastal regions. Flooding will become one of the major problems, as well as several other negative impacts.
As ocean waters move inland, freshwater areas will become contaminated with salt water. As saline water intrudes on rivers, bays, estuaries, and coastal aquifers, they will become unusable. Wildlife that depends on freshwater will have its habitat negatively impacted, and drinking water will become unusable. Erosion will increase along coastlines. This will spell disaster for many of the world's population that currently live along the coasts. It will leave many people homeless and be economically devastating, especially in underdeveloped countries.
As wetlands, mangroves, and estuaries are impacted, fragile habitats will be lost around the world. Species will become threatened, endangered, and extinct. Other marine ecosystems will also be harmed, such as coral reefs. Reef habitats are extremely fragile, and significant physical changes in their environment can quickly destroy them.
Rising Sea Levels
This map depicts the effects of rising sea levels on the countries of the world and how many people would be affected.
The most vulnerable areas are the low-lying countries of the world with extremely large coastal populations, such as Bangladesh, the Maldives, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Senegal, Tuvalu, Mozambique, Egypt, the Marshall Islands, Pakistan, and Thailand. Developing countries do not have the economic resources to implement adaptation measures, such as building sea walls to hold back rising waters. If sea levels rise, the inhabitants of the coastal areas will have no other choice but to move inland to higher ground, if possible, losing what they have at lower levels. If mass migrations result, this could lead to a host of other negative issues, such as hunger, disease, and civil unrest.
Many locations worldwide that are low-lying islands will become especially vulnerable if sea levels keep rising. (Nature's Images)
Island states are particularly vulnerable. One of the nations most at risk is the Maldives. This nation lies in the Indian Ocean and is comprised of nearly 1,200 individual islands. Their elevation above sea level is only six feet (2 m). With a population of more than 200,000 people, if sea levels were to rise significantly, the entire country could become uninhabitable, leaving the population homeless. The Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, in the Pacific, face the same situation. Rising sea levels there would also first contaminate drinking water supplies, then drown the landmasses, leaving the population homeless. Other vulnerable locations include the cities of London, Amsterdam, Shanghai, and Jakarta, as well as many of the Caribbean islands.
In a study conducted by Sugata Hazra, an oceanographer at Jadavpur University in Calcutta, India, over the past 30 years, 31 square miles (80 km2) of the Sundarbans have disappeared because of rising sea level, displacing more than 600 families. Another area, Ghoramara, has had all but two square miles (5 km2) of its land submerged, which is now half the size it was back in 1969. The Sundarbans represent some of the world's biggest collection of river delta islands that lie between India and Bangladesh. Sea-level rise has contaminated the drinking water and destroyed the forested areas in the ecosystem. It has also threatened the existence of the wildlife, including the Bengal tiger. More than 4 million people live on the Sundarbans, a tiny island state, and hundreds of families have already been forced to move to refugee camps on neighboring islands. This is just one example of how rising sea levels are impacting developing countries today.
The impacts are not just limited to other countries; they will also be felt in the United States. Both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts face serious impact in the face of encroaching ocean levels and saline waters. Washington, D.C., is one of the more vulnerable areas. Higher sea levels would flood the Potomac and encroach on many famous historic landmarks. Baltimore and Annapolis are in a similar situation.
In the Mississippi delta, the loss of wetlands is a serious issue. Changes in sea level can cause wetlands to migrate landward. The Atlantic coast is one of the more sensitive areas to wetland vulnerability. Not only is this a problem for the natural habitat, but historically, these areas have been one of the most rich commercial fisheries in the world. If wetlands are endangered or destroyed, it would also have significant economic ramifications. These issues make the monitoring and control of rising sea levels a critical concern. Areas particularly in danger include Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Texas.
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