High tide floods are becoming common in Charleston • Earth.com

High tide floods are becoming common in Charleston

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features the metropolitan area of Charleston, South Carolina, which is among the fastest growing regions of the United States.

Much of the new development in areas like James Island, Johns Island, and Mount Pleasant is taking place on low-lying land that is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding. 

According to NASA, some of the older, more established parts of Charleston are facing similar challenges. Despite having the advantage of slightly more elevated land, these areas are surrounded by water on three sides. 

“Other southeastern coastal cities face similar problems but with one caveat: the lowcountry of South Carolina is low,” said Norman Levine, director of the Santee Cooper GIS Laboratory and Lowcountry Hazards Center at the College of Charleston. “Over one-third of all homes are built on land that sits below 10 feet of elevation.”

In the past, hurricane storm surges have been measured up to 9 feet, and these surges are expected to grow even larger as global warming intensifies.

“If you look at a lot of the recent development, it impinges upon or is in low-lying floodplains and adjacent land,” said Dale Morris, the co-author of a 2019 study on high tide flooding in Charleston. “These areas used to flood and no one really noticed. Now they flood and impact people’s lives, resources, and livelihoods.”

Morris noted that high tide flooding has already become more common in Charleston. In the 1990s, the city experienced 10 to 25 tidal floods per year compared to 89 high tide floods in 2019 and 69 in 2020. This means that Charleston now experiences tidal flooding every 4 to 5 days.

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

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