With populations moving closer to coasts and development proceeding at breakneck pace, is disaster in store?

By mid-century, more than half of the U.S. population will live within a day’s drive of a coast or lakeshore. Once the realm of small villages and ocean-based economies, these areas are now heavily developed and populated with tourists and secondary homes. Many inhabitants appreciate the scenery, but assume shorelines never change. Geologists, however, see a different picture. Billions of years of geologic history have shown that coastal areas are the least constant features on the planet’s surface. Tropical storms (hurricanes) and extratropical storms (Pacific storms, nor’easters) devastate shorelines. In addition, the post-glacial rise in sea level enables storm surges to destroy coastal areas at higher and higher elevations each century. Fixed structures built on coasts with rising sea levels may be doomed.

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