By: Steven Yamshon, Ph.D., Managing Principal
Balboa Island is a coastal community located in Newport Beach, California, that is popular among tourists, vacationers, and full-time residents. Prior to development in 1921, Balboa Island was a swamp with large wetlands being removed to make way for Newport Harbor. Developers dredged millions of tons of silt and sand out of the muddy patches to facilitate a man-made bay.
Since Balboa Island is barely 3 feet above sea level, it could be affected by rising ocean levels caused by high tides, storm surges, flooding, and liquidfaction. If climatologists’ projections prove to be correct, sea levels could rise between 2 and 7 feet within 100 years, although a precise measurement is impossible to predict. A rise in seawater of this magnitude would lead to property destruction, a lack of ingress and egress access points, and a declaration of abandoned land.
A long-term change in the Earth’s temperature causes ocean water to expand. Scientific studies have shown that increasing temperatures lead to a melting of ice sheets on glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. This melting of ice adds new water to the oceans, increasing its volume. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 1 to 2 inches of the increase in sea levels is due to glacier melt flowing into the oceans, with another 2 to 4 inches due to the expansion of ocean water that results from warmer ocean temperatures.
At present, sea levels are rising at the rate of an inch per decade, with the rate of the rise doubling during the past three decades. This would eventually be catastrophic for businesses, residences, and tourism on Balboa Island and in other beach or low-lying areas. The risk map from Climate Central illustrates the areas that would be subject to coastal flooding.
Although the majority of the land area within the Newport Beach city limits would be spared, all beaches, Balboa Island, Balboa Peninsula, Back Bay, Lido Isle, and Pacific Coast Highway may not be usable in their current forms or locations if mitigation and adaption measures are not taken.
Knowing that the sea level will likely rise and that coastal areas will experience heavy flooding at the very least, does it make sense to buy expensive coastal property?
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National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. (2018). Sea Rise Estimates, Coastal Data Digital Tool. Retrieved on May 27, 2020. https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/
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