Storm surge. Tidal flooding. Erosion. Some impacts of sea-level rise are easy to see, but others are hidden.

“What happens when the sea level rises to the built environment from underneath?” says Hussam Mahmoud of Colorado State University.

He explains that as seas rise, the underground water table in coastal areas rises too. And it gets saltier.

Over time, that saltwater can seep through cracks in a building’s foundation and corrode its steel supports.

Mahmoud’s team analyzed the potential impact of saltwater inundation on about 137,000 residential buildings in Mobile County, Alabama.

They found that by 2100, more than 40% of the buildings’ foundations could suffer some deterioration. And if nothing is done in the meantime, repairing the damage could cost up to $90 million.

And that’s just in Mobile County. Mahmoud says the problem could damage buildings all along the coast.

“If you find a fraction of these to be susceptible, then we’re talking tremendous economic losses,” he says.

But he says inspecting foundations every 10 or 20 years, and doing repairs as needed, can significantly reduce those costs in the long run.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media