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About 13.1 Million People Could Be Displaced by Rising Sea Levels, Study Suggests

Apr 18, 2017 09:23 AM EDT
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A new study from the University of Georgia revealed that approximately 13.1 million people in the United States could be displaced by the rising ocean waters.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, showed that people living in coastal communities will be forced to relocate inland, with Houston, Atlanta and Phoenix as their top choices for their migration.

"We typically think about sea level rise as a coastal issue, but if people are forced to move because their houses become inundated, the migration could affect many landlocked communities as well," said Mathew Hauer, a demographer at the University of Georgia and lead author of the study, in a press release.

For the study, the researchers combined the projected populations at risk of sea-level rise with the migration systems simulations to project future destinations of migrants from the coastal communities in the United States over the coming century.

The researchers found that mass migration induced by the rising ocean waters could reshape the population distribution in the United States. Additionally, many of the anticipated landlocked destinations of the migrants are not yet prepared to accommodate a sudden influx of population. This shows that sea level rise will not only affect coastal populations but also people living in landlocked areas.

"Some of the anticipated landlocked destinations, such as Las Vegas, Atlanta and Riverside, California, already struggle with water management or growth management challenges," Hauer said.

Sea level rise is considered to be a unique environmental stressor due to its ability to permanently convert habitable land to uninhabitable water. There are two factors responsible for the rate of sea level rise. These factors are added water from melting land ice and the expansion of sea water as it warms, both of which are related to global warming.

As of January 4, 2017, the sea level is about 88.2 milliliters, as per NASA's Vital Signs of the Planet. The rate of change of sea level is estimated to be 3.4 milliliters per year.

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