Rising seasRise in sea levels threatens California ports, infrastructure

Published 15 December 2009

Scientists expect ocean levels to rise by at least 16 inches over the next 40 years, causing flooding and endangering facilities throughout the state of California; the California Climate Change Center has estimated that nearly half a million people, thousands of miles of roads and railways, and major ports, airports, power plants, and wastewater treatment plants are at risk; in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana region, sea level rise could expose $96.5 billion of infrastructure to damage.

Global warming and a resulting rise in sea levels present a direct threat to the world’s seaports — and many of California’s harbors are nowhere near ready, California state officials say. Sea levels in California are expected to increase 16 inches over the next 40 years, causing flooding and endangering facilities throughout the state, according to a report by the California State Lands Commission. By 2100, the ocean could rise as much as 55 inches, the report said.

The Los Angeles Times’s Ronald White writes that most of the forty ports and shipping hubs surveyed by the state said they were not prepared for the rise in sea levels.

At the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, rising water could damage ground-level facilities and toxic-waste storage sites, said Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, the state’s largest. In Oakland, the site of the state’s third-biggest port, higher water could cause flooding and impede the movement of goods on highways and by rail, officials said in response to questions in the survey. “We need to start planning for these things now, so that we’re not caught having to do a lot of remedial repair work 15 years to 20 years into the future,” Knatz told the Los Angeles Times.

The state’s Sea Level Rise Preparedness report comes as port officials from around the globe are attending the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen. Knatz, who expects to meet with officials of other harbors and discuss shipping issues at the conference, said the U.S. ports must be leaders in crafting a response to rising sea levels. “We need to deal with these issues at the international level more quickly that we normally do. We need to be out ahead of the regulators and set a high bar,” she said.

Knatz and officials from at least six of the world’s biggest seaports have been presented with widely conflicting assessments of the potential for damage and economic disaster from rising sea levels. Among the conference attendees are representatives of the Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, which is Europe’s biggest and lies below sea level. Dutch officials are planning bigger and higher sea barriers even though the port already lies several miles behind a series of dikes and has some of the world’s most comprehensive sea rise defense systems.

According to the California report, which was released last week, higher sea levels would