For many Americans, an extended trip to the seashore will mark the high point of the summer, a chance to relax and recharge in the warm sunshine. For the climate-concerned, however, such a trip might be accompanied by a chilling question: Just where will the sea-shore be twenty, fifty, or a hundred years from now? The following books and reports, all published since 2006, offer both general and regionally-specific answers to this question. Some are available in paperback – perfect for the beach.

Descriptions have been drawn from copy provided by their publishers.

The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Coming Death of America’s Coastal Cities, by Mike Tidwell (Simon & Schuster 2007, 208 pages, $14.99 paperback)

If you are one of the 150 million Americans who live within 100 miles of a coastline – and even if you live much farther inland – you could be inhabiting the next New Orleans. The problem is global warming. We are literally altering the sky above us [through] our use of fossil fuels – oil, coal, and natural gas. Worldwide, thanks to climate change, sea level is expected to rise up to three feet within the coming decades and extreme weather events will significantly increase. These two factors – more intense storms and rising ocean levels – mean we are rapidly turning every coastal city in America into another New Orleans.

The Rising Sea, by Orren H. Pilkey and Rob Young (Island Press 2009, 224 pages, $26.00 paperback)

On Shishmaref Island in Alaska, homes are being washed into the sea. In the South Pacific, small island nations face annihilation by encroaching waters. In coastal Louisiana, an area the size of a football field disappears every day. In The Rising Sea, Orrin H. Pilkey and Rob Young warn that many other coastal areas may be close behind. Prominent scientists predict that the oceans may rise by as much as seven feet in the next hundred years. That means coastal cities will be forced to construct dikes and seawalls or to move buildings, roads, pipelines, and railroads to avert inundation and destruction. While rising seas are now inevitable, we are far from helpless. With unassailable research and practical insights, The Rising Sea is a critical first step in understanding the threat and keeping our heads above water.

The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps, by Peter Ward (Basic Books 2010, 261 pages, $16.99 paperback)

No matter what efforts we make to halt global warming, sea-level rise will be an unavoidable part of our future. In The Flooded Earth, species extinction expert Peter D. Ward describes in intricate detail what our world will look like in 2050, 2100, 2300, and beyond. Even if we stopped all carbon dioxide emissions today, according to Ward, the seas will rise three feet by 2050 and nine feet by 2100. The effects of one meter of sea-level rise will be massive; three meters will be catastrophic. As icebound regions melt, meanwhile, new sources of oil, gas, minerals, and arable land will be revealed – and geopolitical battles will erupt over who owns the rights to them. Ward explains what politicians and policy makers around the world should be doing now to head off the worst consequences of this cataclysmic transformation.

High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis, by John Englander (The Science Bookshelf 2012, 252 pages, $19.95)

Fully updated and revised, with a new introduction by [former New Jersey Governor and former EPA Administrator] Christine Todd Whitman, this is the second edition of the best-selling book that described a superstorm hitting Atlantic City and New York City – exactly one week before Sandy. In clear, easy-to-understand language, High Tide explains:
* The science behind sea-level rise, plus the myths and partial truths used to confuse the issue.
* The surprising forces that will cause sea level to rise for 1,000 years, as well as the possibility of catastrophic rise this century.
* Why the devastating economic effects will not be limited to the coasts.
* Why coastal property values will go “underwater” long before the land does, perhaps as early as this decade.
* Five points of “intelligent adaptation” that can help individuals, businesses, and communities protect investments now and in the future.

The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Sea-Level Rise, by Brian Fagan (Bloomsbury Publishing 2013, 288 pages, $18.00 paperback)

The past fifteen thousand years – the entire span of human civilization – have witnessed dramatic sea level changes, which began with rapid global warming at the end of the Ice Age, when sea levels were more than 700 feet below modern levels. Over the next eleven millennia, the oceans climbed in fits and starts. These rapid changes had little effect on humans, partly because there were so few people on earth, and also because they were able to adjust readily to new coastlines. Then the earth’s population boomed, quintupling from the time of Christ to the Industrial Revolution. The threat from the oceans increased with our crowding along shores to live, fish, and trade. Since 1860, the world has warmed significantly and the ocean’s climb has speeded. The Attacking Ocean tells a tale of the rising complexity of the relationship between humans and the sea at their doorsteps.

Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, by Orrin H. Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey (Columbia University Press 2016, 240 pages, $19.00 paperback)

Melting ice sheets and warming oceans are causing the seas to rise. By the end of this century, hundreds of millions of people living at low elevations along coasts will be forced to retreat to higher and safer ground. Because of sea-level rise, major storms will inundate areas farther inland and will lay waste to critical infrastructure. This big-picture, policy-oriented book explains in gripping terms what rising oceans will do to coastal cities. Aware of the overwhelming social, political, and economic challenges that would accompany effective action, they consider the burden to the taxpayer and the logistics of moving landmarks and infrastructure. The authors conclude with effective approaches for addressing climate-change denialism and powerful arguments for reforming U.S. policies.

Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States, by W.V. Sweet, R.E. Kopp, C.P. Weaver, J. Obeysekera, R.M. Horton, E.R. Thieler, and C. Zervas (NOAA 2017, 75 pages, free download)

This report updates scenarios of global mean sea level (GMSL) rise and integrates the global scenarios with regional factors contributing to sea level change for the entire U.S. coastline. The authors assess the most up-to-date scientific literature on GMSL projections, including recent observational and modeling literature related to the potential for rapid ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica. They recommend a revised “extreme” upper-bound scenario for GMSL rise of 2.5 m by the year 2100, and after consideration of tide gauge and altimeter-based estimates of the rates of GMSL change over the past quarter-century, they revise the lower bound upward from 0.1 m to 0.3 m. This report also shows the relevance of scenario-based and probabilistic projections of future sea levels for coastal-risk planning, management of long-lived critical infrastructure, mission readiness, and other purposes.

When Rising Seas Hit Home: Hard Choices Ahead for Hundreds of US Coastal Communities, by Erika Spanger-Siegfried, Kristina Dahl, Astrid Caldas, Shana Udvardy, Rachel Cleetus, Pamela Worth, and Nicole Hernandez Hammer (Union of Concerned Scientists 2017, 64 pages, free download)

If saltwater regularly soaked your basement or first floor, kept you from getting to work, or damaged your car, how often would it have to happen before you began looking for a new place to call home? This national analysis identifies when U.S. coastal communities will face a level of disruptive flooding that affects people’s homes, daily routines, and livelihoods. It identifies hundreds of communities that will face chronic inundation and possible retreat over the coming decades as sea levels rise. The findings highlight what’s at stake in our fight to address sea-level rise and global warming. They also provide affected communities a measure of how much time they have to prepare.

No Regrets Planning for Sea Level Rise and Climate Change and Investing in Adaptation: A Good Practice Guide, by Southern Regional Flood and Coastal Community (European Commission Prime-C.Net 2015, 52 pages, free download)

This guide sets out how decision-makers in planning and infrastructure investment can work with communities to plan for adaptation to sea-level rise and climate change in coastal areas. Sea levels and the climate are changing, and we are already feeling the effects. The impacts of sea-level rise and climate change are likely to continue for hundreds of years. It is not possible to predict the precise rate and nature of change that will take place, but we will all be affected and there are likely to be very significant impacts on future generations. Coastal communities are particularly vulnerable.

Rising Seas in California: An Update on Sea-Level Science, by Working Group of the California Ocean Protection Council Science Advisory Team (Ocean Science Trust 2017, 71 pages, free download)

This report updates guidance to state agencies – for incorporating sea-level rise projections into planning, design, permitting, construction, investment and other decisions – to reflect recent advances in ice loss science and projections of sea-level rise. This document, requested by the California Ocean Protection Council and guided by a set of questions from the state Sea Level Rise Policy Advisory Committee, summarizes the state of the science on sea-level rise. As such, it provides the scientific foundation for the pending update to The State of California Sea-Level Rise Guidance Document.

Sea Level Rise in Florida: Science, Impacts, and Options, by Albert C. Hine, Don P. Chambers, Tonya D. Clayton, Mark R. Hafen, and Gary T. Mitchum (University Press of Florida 2016, 200 pages, $34.95)

Sea levels are rising – globally and in Florida – due to climate change, ocean warming, and ice mass loss. While Florida’s natural history indicates that there is nothing new about the changing elevation of the sea, what is new is its accelerating pace. Also new – and alarming – is the ever-growing infrastructure near the coasts: high-rise condos, suburban developments, tourist meccas, and international metropolises. In a state where much of the landscape is topographically low and underlain by permeable limestone, the stakes are particularly high. This book offers an in-depth examination of the cycle of sea levels in the past and the science behind the current measurements and the future projections. It also discusses potential consequences for marine and coastal ecosystems and how we can begin to plan strategically for the inevitable changes.

Building the Knowledge Base for Climate Resiliency, by New York City Panel on Climate Change (New York Academy of Sciences 2015, 150 pages, free download – on chapter by chapter basis)

This second report from the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC2) provides climate projections through 2100 – for temperature, precipitation, and sea-level rise. In addition, NPCC2 includes the following advances on the first report.
* New coastal flood risk maps to the end of the century for the current 100-year (1 percent annual chance of occurrence) and 500-year (0.2 percent annual chance of occurrence) coastal flood events.
* Enhanced dynamic flood inundation modeling of future coastal flooding that includes the effects of sea-level rise.
* A review of key issues related to climate change health risks relevant to the citizens of New York City.
* A process for enhancing a New York City Climate Resiliency Indicators and Monitoring System.

”Summertime Click To Tweet

In addition to the reports highlighted above, governmental and non-governmental studies are available for several other states and/or regions – including the Tri-State Region (NY, NJ, CT), New Jersey, Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, Virginia, and Texas – and for some cities (e.g. San Francisco). Climate Central and Zillow offer interactive maps to illustrate sea-level rise for most parts of the coastal U.S. And the interaction between sea-level rise and extreme weather has been an element in many post-mortem analyses of Hurricane Sandy; see here, here, and here.

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since 2005. Before completing his interdisciplinary...