Rising Ocean Levels Placing Coastal Communities, Buildings at Risk

As water level rises, hurricanes become more powerful, increasing their effect on coast cities.   April 18, 2023

By Dave Lubach, Managing Editor

Constructing and reinforcing more resilient institutional and commercial buildings continues to be a concern in storm-heavy areas such as the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern coastlines in the U.S. A few recent studies are confirming that the concern for these buildings and these coastal communities is real and growing. 

A recent Washington Post article brought to light a number of studies that predict long-term risks for cities such as New Orleans, Miami and Houston that are close to the Atlantic and already built on land near or below sea-level. 

One of the studies suggested that two recent powerful hurricanes, Michael in 2018 and Ian in 2022, were considerably worse because of higher ocean sea levels. Tide gauges at Lake Ponchartrain in New Orleans recently showed a level 8 inches higher than it was in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. 

A study cited from the Journal of Climate calculated the sea-level rise at more than 10 millimeters since 2010, roughly 5 inches, in the region through 2022. While that doesn’t seem like a huge increase, it’s considered double the global average rate of 4.5 millimeters per year according to experts at the University of Colorado at Boulder. 

All the studies mentioned in the article are attributing the threats to ocean changes, especially affecting areas in the Gulf of Mexico and around Florida. The rising sea levels coincide with a growing number of people continuing to move to these high-risk areas and increasing the impact on the number of homes and commercial and institutional facilities serving the population. 

Scientists are split on the eventual impact and how rapid the acceleration is occurring, but they do agree that the findings are troubling. 

“Now you have a higher base water level,” says one University of Central Florida professor on the hurricane impacts in these areas. “If you have a hurricane now as opposed to the same hurricane 150 years ago, the impacts would be different.” 

Dave Lubach is managing editor of the Facility Market. 


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