19 July 2024
Sea-Level Rise Threat: Hidden Damage to Underground Infrastructure

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Understanding the Threat of Sea-Level Rise

Sea levels are rising due to climate change, causing coastal groundwater to move closer to the surface and become saltier and more corrosive. A recent study conducted by Earth scientists at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa highlights the potential risks associated with this phenomenon. The research reveals that in cities with intricate buried infrastructure systems, the interaction between shallower, saltier groundwater and critical systems like sewer lines, roadways, and building foundations can lead to corrosion and failure.

The study, published in the Annual Review of Marine Science, emphasizes that the effects of rising sea levels on coastal groundwater can manifest decades before chronic flooding occurs. Lead author Shellie Habel, a coastal geologist at UH Mānoa, points out that the impact of coastal groundwater changes is often overlooked in infrastructure planning, creating a knowledge gap that needs to be addressed.

The Concealed Damage Beneath Our Feet

Before visible signs of surface flooding emerge, rising sea levels elevate the water table and push saltwater inland. This process makes the subsurface environment more corrosive, posing a threat to underground infrastructure networks. Buried drainage and sewage lines can be compromised, leading to the mobilization of urban contamination, while building foundations may weaken over time.

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Research conducted by the Climate Resilience Collaborative (CRC) at UH Mānoa indicates that critical infrastructure worldwide, including drainage systems and basements, is likely already experiencing flooding due to rising groundwater levels. The damage caused by sea-level rise-influenced coastal groundwater is often hidden and not immediately noticeable, making it challenging to address in infrastructure management and planning efforts.

Preparing for the Unstoppable Reality

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has emphasized that sea-level rise is an inevitable and ongoing challenge that communities must prepare for. Chip Fletcher, a study co-author and director of the CRC, stresses the need to redesign communities for greater resilience and social equity in the face of this environmental threat. As sea levels continue to rise, proactive measures are essential to mitigate the impact on coastal infrastructure and communities.

Adapting to Ensure Resilience

Understanding the risks associated with sea-level rise-influenced coastal groundwater is crucial for effective management and adaptation. By recognizing the hidden impacts of rising sea levels, communities can develop informed strategies to safeguard vital infrastructure and enhance resilience. Collaborative efforts between researchers, infrastructure managers, and policymakers are essential in addressing the complex challenges posed by sea-level rise and protecting coastal regions from the detrimental effects of groundwater changes.

Links to additional Resources:

1. https://www.soest.hawaii.edu/ 2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/ 3. https://www.nature.com/

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Sea level rise, Groundwater, Climate change

Sea level rise
Between 1901 and 2018, average global sea level rose by 15–25 cm (6–10 in), an average of 1–2 mm (0.039–0.079 in) per year. This rate accelerated to 4.62 mm (0.182 in)/yr for the decade 2013–2022. Climate change due to human activities is the main cause.: 5, 8  Between 1993 and 2018, thermal...
Read more: Sea level rise

Groundwater
Groundwater is the water present beneath Earth's surface in rock and soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. About 30 percent of all readily available freshwater in the world is groundwater. A unit of rock or an unconsolidated deposit is called an aquifer when it can yield...
Read more: Groundwater

Climate change
In common usage, climate change describes global warming—the ongoing increase in global average temperature—and its effects on Earth's climate system. Climate change in a broader sense also includes previous long-term changes to Earth's climate. The current rise in global average temperature is more rapid than previous changes, and is primarily...
Read more: Climate change

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