Large swaths of the East Texas coast could face chronic flooding by the end of the century, or even earlier if worst-case carbon emission scenarios come to pass, according to a report released Wednesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The report concludes that even under optimistic carbon-reduction estimates, nearly one-third of the Bolivar Peninsula near Galveston will face serious flooding an average of every other week by 2060, and more than half the peninsula will be subject to such chronic flooding by 2100. Under the worst scenario, a quarter of Galveston would face chronic flooding — the kind that makes an area uninhabitable — by 2045, and almost all of that community will be flooded every other week by the end of the century.
Port Aransas, Sabine Pass and Brazosport are among the other communities that would face chronic flooding in nearly all corners under that worst-case scenario.
The peer-reviewed report, published in the journal Elementa, studied the entire coastline of every state except Alaska and Hawaii. The researchers looked for communities “that will experience flooding so extensive and disruptive that it will require either expensive investments … or residents and businesses to prepare to abandon areas they call home.”
“In Texas … bigger cities and industrial centers like Galveston and Sabine Pass become chronically inundated by mid-century” under the scenarios laid out in the report, Kristy Dahl, a report author and climate scientist, said in a statement.
Rising sea levels are already distressing Galveston residents. State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday but has said rising sea levels could mean significantly larger storm surges along the Texas coast. Another study released last month warning of the looming threat of rising sea levels has re-invigorated state officials’ push for a Dutch-style “Ike Dike” to help protect Galveston from rising sea levels.
The Union of Concerned Scientists is a U.S.-based science advocacy nonprofit established in 1969. It has lately been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, contending his administration has undermined science on a basic level by actions such as “editing Department of Energy websites to strip references to climate change, (downplaying) impacts of fossil fuels and (scaling) back benefits of clean energy.”
The union’s report calls on the president to reverse course and have the United States rejoin the Paris Agreement, a nonbinding pact to reduce carbon emissions that 195 countries have signed. The Trump administration contends the agreement would have ceded American sovereignty to the detriment of the nation’s economy.
Most of the at-risk communities identified by the union are along the Jersey Shore, North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound, southern Louisiana and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Such communities have two options, according to the report: retreat from the flood-prone areas or employ such potentially expensive countermeasures as elevating houses, building sea walls and using large-scale pumping systems.
Major Texas cities wouldn’t see chronic flooding, according to the report, though New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles would be among the big cities hit by flooding under the worst-case scenario. More than 90 U.S. communities are already dealing with chronic flooding caused by climate change, according to the report. It concludes that number could jump to 170 in 20 years and 670 by 2100 under its worst-case scenario.
The worst-case scenario assumes carbon emissions continue rising through 2100 and that melting ice raises seas about 6.5 feet. The middle-of-the-road scenario assumes emissions peak around midcentury and seas rise about 4 feet. The most optimistic of the three scenarios assumes emissions drop dramatically and little ice is lost — basically the conditions the report authors say the Paris Agreement was designed to achieve.