Forecast: Boston’s Sea Level Rise to Double in 15 Years - Sampan (2024)

Since 1950, Boston has witnessed an 8-inch increase in sea level, a trend that has gained momentum over the past decade. The current rate of rise stands at approximately 1 inch every 8 years, a measurement derived from the meticulous data which is gathered every 6 minutes using advanced technologies, including satellites, floating buoys, and tidal gauges. These tools enable scientists to monitor local sea level changes with precision, capturing the accelerating pace of rise.

Over the last ten years, the acceleration in sea level rise across Massachusetts has become alarming. It previously took 36 years for the sea level around Boston to ascend by 6 inches. Looking ahead, scientists project a similar increase of another 6 inches within the forthcoming 15 years, highlighting the urgent need to address this escalating challenge.

The eastern coast of the United States is facing a crisis that threatens the very foundation of its coastal communities, infrastructure, and economy. Recent studies and satellite data analyses reveal a stark reality: the land along the East Coast is subsiding at an alarming rate, exacerbating the effects of sea-level rise due to climate change. This phenomenon, largely overlooked until now, is doubling the potential damage from rising seas, cutting in half the time cities and residents have to prepare.

As the Earth’s atmosphere experiences a marked increase in temperature, largely attributed to the heightened presence of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, the world’s oceans become the principal absorbers of this surplus heat. This phenomenon leads to the oceans’ thermal expansion—wherein water undergoes volume increase upon warming. Such thermal expansion is a critical driver behind the sea level rise observed since the dawn of the 20th century, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) attributing approximately half of the sea level rise since 1900 to this process.

Moreover, the planet’s glaciers and ice caps, located in diverse regions from the Canadian Arctic and the Andes to the Himalayas and Alaska, are integral to this narrative. These vast ice formations, built up from centuries of snowfall that have been compressed into ice, are now melting at an unprecedented rate due to the escalation in global temperatures. The resultant meltwater significantly contributes to the rising sea levels, adding fresh water to the oceans.

The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica stand as the most significant contributors to potential future sea level rise. These ice sheets, which harbor immense volumes of ice—sufficient to elevate global sea levels by several meters if melted entirely—are reported to be diminishing at an accelerating rate. Research underscores that this rapid loss is primarily due to the warming of ocean waters that destabilize the ice shelves (the ice sheets’ floating extensions) and increase surface melting. The ensuing discharge of ice into the ocean from these sheets plays a pivotal role in further amplifying sea level rise.
Forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) shed light on future expectations for sea level rise in Massachusetts. According to their projections, post-2024, the sea level is anticipated to climb by 2.82 inches, within a range of 1.31 to 2.6 inches, continuing to rise by about 0.4 inches annually. By the year 2050, this increment is expected to reach approximately 50 inches, with a variability range of 6.94 to 20.64 inches.
In Southern New England, particularly Massachusetts, the repercussions of sea level rise are exacerbated by the gradual sinking of the land. This phenomenon results in sea level increases surpassing the global average.

A recent study published in PNAS Nexus Volume 3, Issue 1, offers a stark prognosis for the East Coast of the United States, which is increasingly at risk of being consumed by rising sea levels. This research reveals that subsidence—the process by which land sinks or settles—occurs at a rate of 2 mm per year, impacting up to 2.1 million people, 867,000 properties, and crucial infrastructure across the East Coast.
John McNamara CPA, living between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, shares his experiences of the environmental changes at Hampton Beach, NH. His observations from his cottage corroborate the increasing threat of rising sea levels, noting significant flooding even during “King Tides,” a phenomenon once rare. Aware of federal flood mitigation initiatives and the availability of flood insurance, he acknowledges governmental efforts but remains concerned about the immediate and future impact on property value and lifestyle. The unpredictability of weather patterns, exacerbated by climate change, has also affected his boating activities, illustrating the broader lifestyle adjustments forced upon residents in these regions. His concern for his property’s future value underscores the financial and emotional toll put on families invested in coastal areas. His account underscores a critical message: the effects of climate change on coastal communities are not hypothetical scenarios but present challenges demanding immediate attention and action.

According to “The Hard Facts About Sea Level Rise” by Liz Durkee, the Union of Concerned Scientists has highlighted the acute vulnerability along the Massachusetts coastline, where 75% of the state’s population resides. The area, characterized by essential infrastructure, residential zones, and natural habitats, faces significant threats from the advancing seas. Notably, the escalating risk has led major insurers to withdraw coverage for numerous homeowners, underscoring the growing concern.
Massachusetts’ islands and shorelines, historically capable of natural adaptation to changing sea levels, are now constrained by human development. The construction of roads, homes, and businesses along these dynamic boundaries has introduced a static element to the naturally evolving coastline. The state’s economy, particularly in beach resort communities, is deeply intertwined with the condition of its coastlines, making it particularly sensitive to changes in sea level. The consequences of rising sea levels are multifaceted, ranging from the loss of low-lying land and increased coastal erosion to more frequent and severe storm damage and the salinization of freshwater resources. Erosion, a significant concern, is reshaping beaches such as Wasque and Lucy Vincent, with Massachusetts facing restrictions on measures like ocean sand mining for beach replenishment.

In a recent interview about the impact of rising sea levels and coastal erosion on communities, Deeb Salem M.D. who resides on Martha’s Vineyard sheds some light on a situation that is becoming increasingly dire for many coastal dwellers. Salem offers insights into how these environmental changes are not just future threats but current realities affecting homes, lifestyles, and plans for the future. He highlighted a firsthand encounter with the effects of erosion, observing coastal homes on the brink of destruction. This alarming situation prompted a cautious approach to property purchase, ensuring a distance from vulnerable oceanfront locations. Recent storms have exacerbated concerns, with flooding obstructing beach access and raising questions about the sustainability of critical infrastructure like ferry docks. The initiatives he is aware of, such as barrier creation and sand replenishment, are steps towards mitigation, yet he stresses the need for global efforts to combat climate change. Drawing from his professional background in medicine, he pointed out the surprising contribution of healthcare waste to global warming, emphasizing the necessity for a collective approach to reversing environmental degradation. He advocates for responsible property investment, reduced carbon footprints, and political action geared towards environmental sustainability.

An alarming increase in local erosion rates, attributing it to climate change-driven factors such as relative sea level rise and heightened storm frequency. This erosion not only threatens land and property but also necessitates costly dredging operations to maintain water quality in ponds, further complicating the state’s response to these challenges. Coastal flooding is set to redefine the landscape, impacting areas well beyond current flood zones and exacerbating issues like stormwater runoff and pollution. The health implications, including the spread of mold-induced asthma and allergies, are also significant concerns, alongside the economic strain of storm damage recovery on local governments. The shrinkage of salt marshes poses another critical issue, diminishing their role in flood mitigation, water filtration, and as habitats for marine life. The encroachment of development on potential migration paths for these marshes further complicates their preservation.

It’s a stark reality that individual efforts alone cannot halt climate change; a coordinated public policy is critical. However, property owners and housing providers are uniquely positioned to make impactful changes. Properties are equipped with numerous energy-consuming appliances and devices that often contribute to global warming. By transitioning to energy-efficient, non-polluting options, we can align with global efforts to mitigate warming and its adverse consequences. Such individual initiatives can also safeguard us against the rapid shifts in policy and climatic conditions that are likely on the horizon. The comprehensive guide, “Landlord’s Guide to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Rental Properties,” speaks about these strategies in detail.

Beyond reducing emissions, it’s crucial to confront flood risks directly. The retreat of coastlines necessitates a reevaluation of property investment strategies. Moving away from or divesting in properties located along coastlines, rivers, and in flood-prone valleys becomes imperative. Many waterfront properties in Massachusetts, once deemed solid investments, now present significant risks. Early recognition of these changing dynamics can position you advantageously. For properties currently owned, prioritizing water management is essential. Investing in robust, commercial-grade gutters and directing runoff to dry wells or away from structures can mitigate flood risks. Additionally, reconfiguring landscapes to channel runoff away from buildings and constructing berms to block street water can be effective measures. In extreme flood-prone areas, consider temporary solutions like sandbag barriers around vital systems, particularly for properties with a history of stormwater intrusion. A more lasting solution involves relocating essential systems such as heating away from basem*nts to higher, flood-safe zones. Embracing technologies like mini-split heat pumps, which can be installed on walls or roofs, offers both energy efficiency and reduced flood risk.

The catastrophic event at the f*ckushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011 serves as a sobering reminder of the risks associated with ignoring flood dangers. The tsunami-induced flooding of the plant’s basem*nt generators led to a chain of disasters, including nuclear meltdowns and the release of radiation. This incident underscores the critical importance of strategic system placement to prevent similar tragedies. Facing the challenge of rising sea levels, Massachusetts is on a path toward resilience and innovation. By harnessing advanced technologies, robust community planning, and sustainable practices, the state is adapting to protect its coastlines and communities. Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, alongside strategic adaptations for infrastructure and natural habitats, signal a proactive approach to mitigate the impacts of climate change. This forward-thinking stance, coupled with a commitment to environmental stewardship and public policy, brightens the outlook for Massachusetts, demonstrating a collective resilience that promises to safeguard the state’s cherished landscapes and vibrant communities for future generations.

Forecast: Boston’s Sea Level Rise to Double in 15 Years - Sampan (2024)


How will Boston be affected by sea level rise? ›

More flooding, even on a sunny day in Boston during a King Tide. Expect to see walkways inundated with ocean water, and vulnerable property along the coast at risk moving forward as the city is home to 47 miles of coastline.

How long will it take for Boston to be underwater? ›

Several parts of Boston could be underwater by the year 2100 if climate change leads to a temperature increase of 4.9°, according to this frightening map produced by Climate Central. Coastal areas are most prone to ending up underwater if the sea levels, accelerated by climate change, continue to rise.

What will Boston look like in 2050? ›

A report found that if emissions are reduced, sea levels may increase by a foot in the 21st century. The Boston Harbor is likely to see about 3.4 feet by the end of the century. The report also found that Boston may experience flooding that lasts for at least an hour a day for half of the days of the year by 2050.

What will Cape Cod look like in 50 years? ›

According to glaciologists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report, the climate change impact on Cape Cod could find the Cape and Islands submerged in 50 years.

Which US state will be most affected by a rise in sea level? ›

According to projections by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, assuming the IPCC's worst-case scenario comes true, the Carolinas, Florida and Louisiana would likely be the worst affected states. North Carolina would lose at least three coastal counties, with others greatly reduced in size.

What US city is most likely to be affected by sea levels rising? ›

Large cities surrounded by water -- such as Boston, New Orleans and San Francisco -- will be among the regions that could experience flooding in the near future due to land elevation changes combined with sea level rise -- about 4 millimeters per year, said Ohenhen, who authored the paper.

What will Boston look like in 100 years? ›

Within 100 years, at unchecked pollution levels, it will be inevitable that all of the Fenway, the South End, and the Seaport District, as well as parts of Dorchester, South Boston, and downtown—save for a small island near the Common—will be submerged underwater.

Does the Blue Line in Boston go underwater? ›

Perhaps ironically, the Blue Line takes several points of pride from its proximity to water, which gives it its name. Local historians claim the tunnel that runs under the harbor as the first underwater subway tunnel in the United States.

Has it ever been 100 degrees in Boston? ›

The last time temperatures in Boston crossed the 100 degree mark was June 30, 2021, and the previous July 24 record was 98 degrees set in 1933.

How much older is Boston than New York? ›

Boston, established in 1630 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, is indeed older than New York, which was officially recognized as a city in 1653. Boston's establishment was driven by the quest for religious freedom by the Puritans.

Are people moving out of Boston? ›

25% plan to leave Boston area

According to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 25% of people ages 20 to 30 years old intend to move somewhere else over the next five years. The survey shows high rent costs, the ability to buy a home and career prospects all play a role.

Is Massachusetts a good place to live for climate change? ›

Massachusetts was ranked 3rd on the list overall. Vermont was ranked as the top state to move to in order to avoid climate change. New Hampshire was second, while Rhode Island also made the list as #7. Of course, everyone should be concerned about climate change.

Where do the rich live in Cape Cod? ›

West Yarmouth, on the other hand, is home to the ultra-exclusive Great Island. This gated community sits on a peninsula, with miles of extremely private beaches and some pricey homes. There are only three-dozen homes and a few cottages on Great Island, oftentimes priced in the multi-million dollar range.

Will Cape Cod be underwater soon? ›

Although existing models predict that globally on average sea level would rise in the range of 0.09 to 0.88 m by 2100, a peninsular like Cape Cod might experience higher and more dramatic rise. Many areas, as shown in Figure 2, would be inun- dated and inhabitable in the future.

How long until Cape Cod is gone? ›

Erosion along the Nauset-Monomoy barrier system can move the beach anywhere from 1 to 6 meters a year (3 to 20 feet). Sea level rise — a least one foot in the past century — is also slowly taking away the beachfront. Between the two, the sea could reclaim Cape Cod in five or six thousand years.

Is Boston at risk for flooding? ›

Boston Flood Risk Ranking and Trends

This year 27% of properties in Boston have risk of flooding. In 30 years 30.6% of properties in Boston will have risk of flooding.

What will the sea level be in Boston 2100? ›

By 2100, under a worst-case scenario where emissions keep increasing, researchers estimate that sea levels around Boston could rise by 6.4 feet. Even with major climate policies in place, the region could see sea levels pushed up by more than 2 feet by the end of the century.

How far above sea level is Boston? ›

The city's official elevation, as measured at Logan International Airport, is 19 ft (5.8 m) above sea level. The highest point in Boston is Bellevue Hill at 330 ft (100 m) above sea level, and the lowest point is at sea level.

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