Pick A Coastline, And See How Climate Change Will Overrun It

Take note: At five feet of sea level rise, water could overrun 5,900 homes in San Francisco. Look up your state or zip code with this online tool.

Last year, Climate Central, a group of researchers and journalists, released Surging Seas, a unique online tool showing how climate change is set to affect the U.S. coastline. For the first time, it allowed visitors to punch in a zip code and look at what’s in store for a particular neighborhood (3,000 coastal towns are covered). So, for example, you could zoom in on San Francisco and see how much of the city might be overrun at five feet of sea level rise (the answer is 1,788 acres, 5,902 homes, and almost 11,000 people). Which, of course, is a scary thought. Scientists expect the world’s oceans to surge by between two and seven feet by 2100, based on current trends.


Now Climate Central is back with an update to the original map, and some detailed tools for individual states, starting with New York, New Jersey and Florida. If anything, the additions make for even gloomier viewing. Now, you can see how schools, hospitals, churches, government buildings, and wastewater treatment plants will be affected as well. You can compare exposure across parts of a state, and see flood likelihood at selected sea levels for different years. It’s a little geeky–but if you live in, say, St. Petersburg, Florida, this may be essential information.

An accompanying report for Florida adds more meat to the message of the maps. It notes, for example, that 2,120 square miles of the state are less than three feet above the high tide line. That’s about 300,000 homes, worth more than $156 billion, as well as 2,555 miles of road, 35 public schools, a power plant, and 966 EPA-listed waste dumps and sewage sites. At two-feet above high tide, Florida has $76 billion worth of real estate. “Within less than the term of a 30-year mortgage, sea level rise could cause floods this high to occur once every five years, or even every year, depending on location within the state,” the report says.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.