The Impact of Rising Oceans on Coastal Environments

The slow rise of ocean levels is becoming a growing economic and environmental concerns along the coastlines of the world. With the rising temperature rates, it is becoming an inevitable impact rather than a theory. With this urgency, research and new resources need to be explored and made into a priority before it’s too late. It is estimated that the sea level rises 0.13 inches (3.2 millimeters) per year (NASA, 2018). That worrying rise is mostly due to two factors, both of them related to global warming; the first has to due with the added water from the melting ice and the second with the expansion of the sea water as it progressively gets warmer.

It is necessary to analyse this rising issue not only to see and predict its’ impact on the environment and economy but also to be able to work to prevent said impact or at the very least, lessen it.

In order to understand the rising sea levels, it is crucial to understand why the problem arose in the first place.

Over the past century, enormous amounts of “heat-trapping gases” have been released into the atmosphere, mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels along with other human and natural activities. Nevertheless, these particular emissions have caused a rise in the temperature of the Earth’s surface and 80% of said temperature is absorbed by the ocean (National Geographic, 2017).

Along with the rapidly increasing speed of the sea level which is causing the Earth to heat up, it has also caused a devastating effect on coastal habitats.

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With the seawater gaining more territory over the inland, the destructive erosions, floods and agricultural soil pollutants are becoming a more common problem along the coastline. For example, along the cost of the Gulf of Mexico there is an area of 8,776 square miles ( 22,730 sq kilometers) called “Dead Zone” which was caused by farming pollutants, nitrogen rich runoffs from farms near the mississippi river.

This affects the environment there because no fish, or native species live there under those conditions. This can lead to a mass endangerment of species in the area if action to help clean the ‘Dead Zone’ are not taken. Furthermore, storms have also become a more serious threat as higher sea levels give way to more powerful storm surges which can destroy everything in their path. Due to all those issues arising with the high sea levels, millions of people who live in coastal areas might be forced to relocate their homes in order to avoid the dangers.

It is predicted that the warming of the planet will continue and accelerate in speed. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the oceans will rise between 11 and 38 inches (27 and 96.52 centimeters) by 2100 (Folger, 2015). Those levels are enough to swamp several cities of the U.S. East Coast. Furthermore, it has also been estimated that the Greenland ice sheets will suffer a complete meltdown, placing the level of the sea to 23 feet (7.01 meters), which is high enough to submerge London (National Geographic, 2017).

With all the changes that are happening and are predicted to happen the economic impact are also expected to be immense. It is estimated that floods tend to affect 40% of americans. From 2015 to 2017, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut lost 6.7 billion dollars in home values (Amadeo, 2018). In the town of Charleston, South Carolina, floods occur 50 days a year. North Carolina is currently losing six feet of coastal land every year causing erosions. Miami, Florida had to create a 500 million dollars public word program to help cope with the fact that the ocean tends to flood the streets during high tide, making it necessary to raise roads, install pumps and redo sewers to avoid the flooding (Amadeo, 2018). Yet it is estimated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that by 2048, 64,000 Florida homes will have to deal with chronic flooding and by 2070 “Miami streets will flood every single day” (Sloat, 2018).

With all this in mind, it is pertinent to was, what would life be like if all the ice melted? In California alone: San Diego would disappear from the map, the Gulf of California would stretch, San Francisco’s hills would become islands and Central Valley a bay. In South America, Buenos Aires in Argentina would be wiped out along with coastal Uruguay and Paraguay. Most of Africa would become uninhabitable due to the Earth’s rising heat. Egypt, Alexandria and Cairo will be swamped by the intruding Mediterranean. In Europe, London and Venice would cease to exist along with Netherlands and most of Denmark. In Asia around “600 million Chinese” will find themselves without a home due to floods and Bangladesh along with most of coastal India would be submerged. Australia would “gain a new inland sea” whilst simultaneously losing “the narrow coastal strip where four out of five Australians now live” (National Geographic, 2013).

However, cities disappearing and the economic crisis that comes with it are not the only thing at risk of happening with rising sea levels. Climate change could be the end of several species, all of them vital to food chains, primarily the marine food chain. World Wildlife Fund has predicted the extension of: plankton, corals, fish, polar bears, walruses, seals, sea lion, penguins and seabirds. So far Corals have been the ones to suffer the most, a stress response caused by high water temperature called coral bleaching has been recorded to hi several corals along the world, the mortality rate of them reaching 70%. Tropical storms and heavier rainfall has also increased the damage to coral reefs and their corresponding ecosystems. (World Wildlife Fund, 2017).

Furthermore, several species have been forced to relocate due to rising sea temperatures and lack of food, something that has already endangered the polar bears, which were listed as a “threatened species in the US under the Endangered Species Act in May 2008” (World Wildlife Fund, 2018). The rising temperatures can also, directly affect the metabolism and life cycle of marine species causing them to have fewer offsprings (World Wildlife Fund, 2017).

It is estimated that up to 90% of amphibians, 86% of birds and 80% of mammals could become extinct in Southern Africa alone. The Amazon could lose 69% of its plant species, southwest Australia would lose 89% of its amphibians, 60% of the species that reside in Madagascar would become extinct and Fynbos, Cape Town would lose a third of its species (World Wildlife Fund, 2018).

The ‘what’ and ‘ifs’ of the impact of rising levels are ending. Everyday the potential risks and losses of climate change become more and more of a reality than a nearby future. The polar bears are slowly but surely becoming extinct along with coral reefs. Coastal cities are facing floods more and more often. The economy is already starting to see the deep and devastating impact of climate change, increased Earth temperature and rising sea levels. Many cities have already had to rebuilt their infrastructure to accommodate themselves to the recurring floods, programs to protect, rescue and help repopulate endangered species had to be not only created but implemented.

The devastating impact has already begun, and whilst the damage seems to be irreversible, the fast progressing rate of the melting ice can be slowed down. For starters, reducing our emissions would slow the progress by 6 or 20 inches (15.24 or 50.8 centimeters) by 2100 (Plumer, 2012). However, the sea will keep rising since the emissions that have already happened will impact our Earth for centuries to come. It is an irreparable damage so it is pertinent to reach the conclusion that the rise of the sea levels cannot be stopped and the solutions have to be aimed towards surviving the rise rather than trying to stop it.

According to Gittman, an environmental scientist, creating living shorelines might work to protect and preserve coastal cities. “For shores with relatively calm waters, the best bet is often a water-absorbing salt marsh, possibly fortified with sill-like ledges made of rocks, oyster shell bags, or “logs” made of coconut fiber.” (Bennington-Castro, 2017). Salt marshes and mangroves are capable of trapping organic matter, which at the same time, helps them grow further up hence raising the protection. Likewise, the growth rate of oyster reefs can outpace the sea level rise, ensuring the protection of coastal cities in the years to come, if implemented.

It might be too late to save the Earth from rising sea levels, but it is still time to set the necessary prevention methods to save and protect coastal cities, ecosystems and species from an irreversible extinction. 

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The Impact of Rising Oceans on Coastal Environments. (2022, May 26). Retrieved from

The Impact of Rising Oceans on Coastal Environments
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