A projected view of 2050 – red areas are 'land at risk' .
(Climate Central and Google Maps).
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
NEW research show rising seas will have worse impact than previously known, with most of Grand Bahama, Abaco and Spanish Wells projected to be under flood levels by 2050 because of climate change.
Much of Crooked Island, Acklins, Andros and Cat Island will be under flood levels as well while the eastern and south-eastern parts of New Providence will be there too, according to projections by Climate Central, a non-profit organisation that reports climate science news.
Worldwide, three times more people will be impacted than research previously indicated.
The new research uses a new digital elevation model, CoastalDEM, to better project annual flood levels, differing from earlier models that were based on NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM).
The new model shows that many of the world’s coastlines are far lower than has been generally known.
“The residents of small island states could face particularly devastating losses,” Climate Central reported. “And well before that land is flooded, residents will face saltwater intrusion into freshwater supplies and frequent flooding. In small islands states, as elsewhere, land could become uninhabitable well before it disappears...Sea level rise could also produce humanitarian crises by stripping millions of people of their homes and traditional livelihoods. The developing countries least able to protect their residents through coastal defenses or planned evacuations could be particularly vulnerable—and are responsible for just a small fraction of global emissions.”
In reality, the impact could be worse than CoastalDEM’s models show; its projections optimistically factor in the earth experiencing no more than 2°celsius of warming––the main target of the 2015 Paris Agreement––and that there is “medium luck” so pollution and global warming have weaker effects on sea levels than scientists generally expect, according to Climate Central’s online coastal risk screening tool.
Some good news is that 110 million people worldwide already live in areas below the high tide line and are protected by levees and seawalls.
In their paper discussing the findings, researchers Scott Kulp and Benjamin Strauss wrote: “At the same time, current coastal defenses should not be assumed adequate to protect against future sea levels and storms without continued maintenance and, likely, enhancement.”
“If our findings stand, coastal communities worldwide must prepare themselves for much more difficult futures than may be currently anticipated. Recent work has suggested that, even in the US, sea-level rise this century may induce large-scale migration away from unprotected coastlines, redistributing population density across the country and putting great pressure on inland areas. It is difficult to extrapolate such projections and their impacts to more resource-constrained developing nations, though historically, large-scale migration events have posed serious challenges to political stability, driving conflict.”
In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, which devastated some of the parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama that will be most affected by sea-level rise in the future, some believe the government should place special focus on rebuilding the islands and cays in a sustainable way.
Dr Adelle Thomas, a Bahamian human-environment geographer, said without this the islands will suffer ever worsening consequences from storms.
“We cannot continue with a business as usual approach that has resulted in the devastation seen by Dorian, Irma and Joaquin,” she said yesterday. “There are options to adapt to these changes including eco-system based adaptation, rezoning and hard infrastructure. A well thought out and coherent plan for rebuilding that takes adaptation into account is a necessity to reduce the high risks facing Bahamians. Development of a strategy and effective implementation should be given the highest priority to facilitate safe and resilient rebuilding. Otherwise, we may well see ourselves in a similar position as the frequency of these intense hurricanes occur. The strong science on climate change is clear. Recent reports from the IPCC highlight that small island developing states such as the Bahamas can expect faster rates of sea level rise and extreme sea level events-such as storm surges associated with hurricanes that once occurred every 100 years to occur annually by 2050.”
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis was asked during a press conference on Sunday if Abaco residents will be allowed to rebuild in vulnerable areas or whether the government is considering rezoning or some other plan.
“I think at this point in time this new Ministry (of Disaster Preparedness, Recovery and Reconstruction) headed by (Iram Lewis), an architect and a planner, they will be reviewing those areas and reviewing the whole matter with respect to moving forward and our development for tomorrow,” he said.