Walls Won't Save Our Cities From Rising Seas. Here's What Will

  • Joseph Bennington-Castro
  • July 27, 2017

'Green' approaches may be the best way to protect coastal communities from flooding associated with climate change.

To some people, climate change seems like a problem only for future generations. But for residents of many coastal cities, the future is already here — in the form of rising sea levels and frequent, destructive floods. And the problem is only going to get worse. The latest research suggests that by 2100, up to 60 percent of oceanfront communities on the East and Gulf Coasts of the U.S. may experience chronic flooding from climate change.

The fix for inundation might seem pretty simple: just erect tall seawalls and other barriers to keep the ocean at bay. But barriers can fail. Even when they don’t, they can have the unintended consequence of harming delicate coastal habitats and the animals that live in them.

"Fundamentally, there is an issue with the concept of building walls to stop flooding," says Rachel Gittman, an environmental scientist and ecologist at East Carolina University. "We should not be thinking that we can stop every flood."

The good news? Walls aren’t the only option. Environmental scientists and engineers have devised a range of clever ways to prevent coastal flooding by sopping up water and limiting erosion and wave energy. And then there’s permeable pavement, which allows floodwaters to seep into the ground below rather than pool on the surface.

Many experts, Gittman included, are convinced that these and other “green” alternatives will hold the key to saving our coastal communities.


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Tags: Atlantic & Gulf Coast News

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