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Book Review/Science in the Media

What to Do When the Oceans Rise

  • Lauren-Kristine Pryzant,

    Affiliation: Kenan-Flagler Business School, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States of America

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  • John F. Bruno mail

    jbruno@unc.edu

    Affiliation: Department of Biology, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States of America

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  • Published: September 04, 2012
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001387

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By the end of the century, where and how will coastal populations relocate?

Posted by jennings on 26 Sep 2012 at 18:42 GMT

In a recent article in the journal Global Policy (doi: 10.1111/j.1758-5899.2012.00193.x), I point out that we must begin to develop policies and plans now for the resettlement of coastal populations. Sea level rise and storm surge flooding, along with severe increases in storm intensity and duration are likely to result in large chronic losses of life and property over coming decades.

In the U.S., for example, given trends in population growth, about 210 million people are expected to live in the coastal impact zone by 2070. Somewhere along the continuum of between now and 2070 something on the order of between 100 and 200 million people are likely to relocate from this coastal impact zone. Where and how will these people resettle? How will inland regions deal with population increases of tens of millions each over just a few decades? The implications of this for land use planning, utility services, and infrastructure, as well as for local, regional, and national economies would be staggering if only half of this estimate were realized.

Coastal refugees numbering in the hundreds of millions worldwide across all economic strata must be anticipated. Of the ten nations having the largest populations at risk of sea level rise and coastal storm disasters by 2050, eight are developing nations. Some 147 million people from these eight nations alone are currently at risk forced relocation due to sea level rise. As of the year 2012 an estimated 800 million people worldwide lived within a 10 m elevation above sea level. The geographic heterogeneity of coastal population densities will undoubtedly have a large effect on patterns of resettlement in adjacent regions. Where and how people relocate from coastal zones is uncertain, but it is certain that such relocations will deeply impact the environments, cultures, and economies of the receiving areas in complex and long lasting ways. It is important to start now with large scale planning, design, and simulation of what may be the largest and most geographically extensive human migration in history.

No competing interests declared.