Imagine that you’re visiting a friend’s beach house. You’ve spent a week swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing by the beautiful blue ocean waters. But then, one morning, you wake up to find that the house is submerged in salt water.
This scenario is, of course, unrealistic. However, it does illustrate an important and relevant environmental issue: rising sea levels. Due to global warming, sea levels have been increasing at a rate of about three millimeters every year. As temperatures increase, polar ice caps and glaciers melt. The meltwater flows into oceans and seas, raising tide levels around the world. Over the past hundred years, the rate of rise has gradually increased.
Naturally, rising sea levels have important environmental consequences. However, this article will deal with the effects of rising sea levels on human habitats, oft-overlooked victims of rising tides.
While there have been no conclusive reports that rising sea levels have a direct affect on human habitation, many scientists are worried that small island states might “drown” in the near future. In particular, researchers have focused on the Pacific island states of Tuvalu and Tegua. In Tuvalu, sea levels rise about 1.2 mm per year, increasing the damage caused by the occasional floods. In addition, the tropical hurricanes that sweep through the region cause land erosion, making it easier for flood waters to reach important agricultural and inhabited land.
In Tegua, sea levels have been rising at about 7 mm per year. However, as reliable data has only been recorded over the past decade, it is difficult to predict the exact effects of the rise. Researchers, though, are concerned about the island’s fate.
Another major issue involved with rising sea levels is river delta flooding. Major deltas, like the Ganges River Delta, open into oceans. In Asia, many people live in small shacks in these fertile delta regions. As the sea levels rise, land erodes along the deltas, displacing thousands of families. In Bangladesh, where the Ganges delta is located, millions of people are displaced each year by the rising tides. In addition, the floods can devastate the annual rice crop, a staple for many poor Asian farmers.
So while scientists warn us about the danger of rising sea levels to ecosystems and natural habitats, it is important to remember that they deeply affect the human landscape, too. They remind us that we are not separate from the world, but are intimately connected to it.