RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities

This month yet another new study about climate change* was released. But this one is different. Unlike many previous studies in which scientists are hesitant to draw causal connections between global warming and specific weather events, this study comes out and says it: "Global warming makes heat waves more likely." The study also found that global warming is making other weather extremes more likely, such as droughts and heavy rains.

Higher global temperatures heat up the oceans, as well. When the water in the seas heats up, it expands -- this is called thermal expansion. Thermal expansion is one of the biggest causes of sea level rise. Throw in melting glaciers adding more volume to the rising waters and more frequent heavy rains, and we've got a big problem for the more than 600 million people around the world who live in coastal areas that are less than 30 feet above sea level. And it's not just those people whose homes are right beside the water. Many others are at risk as floodwaters inundate sewage treatment plants, airports, freeways, and farmland.

We have reached a tipping point. While it is vital that we eliminate the emissions causing climate change, it is now time to acknowledge that we can't turn back the clock. Even if we were to stop driving every car on the planet today, we would still face serious sea level flooding worldwide over the next 50 years. Adapting to climate change impacts that we can no longer halt must become part of the game plan.

RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities explores this international issue through the lens of a single place: the San Francisco Bay Area. Six multimedia web stories take a look at the personal lives of men and women living along the water who are facing a rising tide.

How will they adapt to a changing planet? How can we as a society protect our population? Please join us on this journey.

*Peterson, Thomas C., Peter A. Stott, Stephanie Herring, 2012: Explaining Extreme Events of 2011 from a Climate Perspective. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 93, 1041-1067.