Two scientists visited the Hampton Inn Express Thursday night to talk about the effects of sea level rise in Oregon.
Both scientists said sea level rise is imminent, but the amount could vary.
Kristina Dahl, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, has a doctorate degree in paleoclimate science and said future greenhouse gas emissions will determine the amount the sea level rises and predicted those rises to be anywhere from 1 to 6 feet in the next century.
But Dahl said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration included an extreme case in its climate assessment where sea level could rise by as much as 8 feet depending on how sensitive the Antarctic ice is to future warming.
According to Dahl, Oregon is predicted to have 4 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century.
From an economic standpoint, Dahl said there are implications for the tax base if coastal homes go underwater or decline in value.
By the year 2045, she said 800 coastal Oregon homes could be at risk, valued at $130 million.
That number is low compared to the rest of the nation, Dahl said.
But in Oregon, she said, “This is an issue that will affect low and moderate income people the most.”
Dahl said that’s something the state needs to consider when it comes up with an action plan.
Earlier in her presentation, Dahl called sea rise one of the most visible and tangible effects of climate change.
She described a “slowly unfolding disaster,” and talked about chronic inundation, or flooding so frequent and disruptive that it forces change.
Dahl talked about flood-prone areas in cities like Annapolis, Maryland and Charleston, South Carolina.
She used Miami as an example of an area that has put millions of dollars into a flood pumping system because flooding was becoming an issue in higher trafficked areas.
Dahl also showed examples of places closer to home like the railroads tracks in downtown Coos Bay covered in water.
She said business owners there were reluctant to make improvements to buildings because of the threat of future flooding.
In her next powerpoint slide, Dahl showed how flooding is predicted to encroach into downtown Coos Bay businesses by 2060.
While business owners may not be thinking about the year 2100 in their business plan, Dahl said that’s within the lifetime of her children.
Scott Bridgham, a professor at the University of Oregon, talked about tidal ecosystems in Oregon.
He said there’s a small number of tidal wetlands on the Pacific Coast and with sea level rise those marshes could start to disappear, leaving mud flats behind.
The steep, rugged topography of the Pacific Northwest also limits wetlands migration inland, he said.
When the wetlands go, Bridgham said, the coast becomes more vulnerable to storm surges and wildlife habitat is lost.
He said the best way to mitigate that is through wetland restoration.
Multiple people asked the scientists about the impacts of a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake on the coast.
Bridgham said in the event of the earthquake, the wetlands will be wiped out.
But, in the event of a catastrophic earthquake, he said, the concern will be less about the wetlands and more about recovering the community.