There is almost no public discussion about how to bolster resilience to the insidious threat of sea-level rise.
-Wendy Gordon, PhD, author of The Risk of Rising Sea Level: Texas Universities Ready and Able to Help Coastal Communities Adapt
Sea-level rise poses a clear and present danger to the Texas Coast.
Although it may not be noticeable to the naked eye, the sea is rising along the Texas Gulf Coast. In fact, purely extrapolating the decades’ long trend in rise yields an increase of more than a foot along much of the coastline by 2100.
This rise poses a significant risk to a Texas coast that is otherwise extremely flat. Moreover, this rise, in combination with the surge that accompanies hurricanes and tropical storms, will make more and more areas vulnerable to flooding.
Think of Hurricane Sandy: The surge caused by that storm was higher and all the more destructive because of 11 to 16 inches of sea-level rise in New York Harbor over the past century.
A wide variety of social and economic systems are threatened by this rising tide. Nearly a quarter of the state’s population, 6 million people live in coastal counties, twice the density found elsewhere in the state. Growth in this region continues to outpace Texas’ population growth.
Four of the nation’s busiest ports are found in Texas: Houston, Corpus Christi, Beaumont and Texas City. These ports are highly tied into the petrochemical industry. In 2010, 52 percent of all foreign crude oil imports were received at Texas ports.
The Texas coast is home to a vast array of chemical plants, refineries, LNG facilities, oil pipelines, offshore platforms and related infrastructure. A study by Entergy calculated the projected replacement cost of these assets in Texas in 2030 as $400 billion. This value represents about one half of all energy-related assets in the Gulf Coast. Hence, Texas’ share of at-risk assets is huge. Yet, there is almost no public discussion about how to bolster resilience to the insidious threat of sea-level rise.
Despite the absence of a visible, public dialogue about these issues in Texas, there is a growing adaptation movement nationally and some of that work is making its way to Texas, whether it’s restoring wetlands to make these front lines of defense more resilient, installing “living” sea walls that provide a variety of ecological and economic benefits, or retrofitting buildings to make them less vulnerable to storm surges.
Wendy Gordon, PhD, is founder and principal of Ecologia Consulting, an environmental services company in Austin, Texas and associate editor of EOS, the journal of the American Geophysical Union. She authored a special report for The University of Texas at Austin last February titled The Risk of Rising Sea Level: Texas Universities Ready and Able to Help Coastal Communities Adapt.
Crystal Beach, Texas before and after Hurricane Ike in 2008.