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Rising sea levels could reshape cities as people migrate inland

A new study from the University of Georgia predicts that sea-level rise could lead to an influx of evacuees into inland cities – similar to what Louisiana experienced after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.

The researchers estimate that rising ocean waters could displace approximately 13.1 million people over the next century. This is the first study that attempts to model the inland destination of millions of potentially displaced migrants from coastal communities. Ultimately, the data points to Atlanta, Houston, and Phoenix as major destinations for those looking to relocate.

Studies of sea-level rise as a singularity are common, and may help plan for the development of necessary infrastructure. But little research has been done on where the displaced populations will go. In fact, no previous studies model the potential migration due to sea-level rise or how it will affect populations in areas that could be potential safe havens.

“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,” says Mathew Hauer, the study’s lead author.

The lack of research done on this connection is likely due to the fact that the relationships between environmental stressors and migrations are extremely complicated. In particular, sea-level rise is a unique environmental stressor as it permanently converts habitable land into uninhabitable water.

For this study, the researchers combined estimates of populations at risk from sea-level rise within a migration systems simulation in order to estimate both the number of migrants and their possible destinations over the coming century.

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

By getting a head start on preparing for a possible swell in migrant population, these cities may be able to provide the necessary infrastructure changes to prepare for a wetter, darker future.

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

Source: University of Georgia


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