Disappearing cities on US coasts

Leonard O. Ohenhen, Manoochehr Shirzaei, Chandrakanta Ojha, Sonam F. Sherpa, Robert J. Nicholls

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The sea level along the US coastlines is projected to rise by 0.25–0.3 m by 2050, increasing the probability of more destructive flooding and inundation in major cities1,2,3. However, these impacts may be exacerbated by coastal subsidence—the sinking of coastal land areas4—a factor that is often underrepresented in coastal-management policies and long-term urban planning2,5. In this study, we combine high-resolution vertical land motion (that is, raising or lowering of land) and elevation datasets with projections of sea-level rise to quantify the potential inundated areas in 32 major US coastal cities. Here we show that, even when considering the current coastal-defence structures, further land area of between 1,006 and 1,389 km2 is threatened by relative sea-level rise by 2050, posing a threat to a population of 55,000–273,000 people and 31,000–171,000 properties. Our analysis shows that not accounting for spatially variable land subsidence within the cities may lead to inaccurate projections of expected exposure. These potential consequences show the scale of the adaptation challenge, which is not appreciated in most US coastal cities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-115
Number of pages8
Issue number8002
Early online date6 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2024

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