CLIMATE: New study for potential future sea level rise along U.S. coastlines

Posted at 6:43 AM, Jul 03, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-03 06:43:21-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - New government studies hold alarming news for sea levels on the East and West Coasts of the United States. As CBS News Jim Axelrod reports, the East Coast in particular could be facing its largest environmental problem in the coming years.

In coastal Norfolk, Va., Ed and Julie Guyton hate to think about the constant threat of flooding they face.

"We've had 3 floods from tidal surges, storms that entered into our home in the first floor at least 7 inches up to 10 inches," says Ed Guyton.

Since 1990, sea levels have gone up about two inches around the world. But in Norfolk, it's more than double that at 4.8 inches.

Ed Guyton says, "Yes its scary, its petrifying, you cant think about it."

Actually, it's not just Norfolk, but a 600-mile stretch of the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Boston that's now seeing sea levels rise much faster than the rest of the world. Philadelphia is up 3.7 inches. New York City is up 2.8 inches.

Ben Strauss studies rising sea levels for the non-profit Climate Central.

Strauss says, "Sea level rise is like a creeping tsunami. It goes almost imperceptibly year by year, but it is gaining in tremendous amount of strength and it is going to have an enormous impact on our coast."

Strauss blames global warming for melting polar ice caps that in turn slows the Gulf Stream, creating a traffic jam of water that makes sea rise worse along the East Coast.

New York City's Office of Emergency Management predicts two to five inches higher sea levels in the next decade, with seven to 12 in the 2050's, and up to nearly two feet by the 2080's, which would change the face of the City.

Jersey City Mayor Jerry Healy says, "Do you feel hopeless like what can we do about it? There is really not much that you can do."

The projections are even scarier across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey. 35 percent of Healy's City is two to three feet below sea level right now, and first floors of new buildings must be three feet above sidewalk grade.

Healy says, "Could jersey city exist with the water levels being another 3 or 4 feet higher? It could exist but not like we are doing business today."

The best guess is rising sea levels could cost the major cities on the coast at least 300 billion dollars by 2050.

Jim Axelrod, CBS News, Jersey City, NJ.