A new study reveals how historic building trends on U.S. coastlines overlap with sea level rise projections, showing that areas most vulnerable to sea level rise developed faster and are denser than inland urban areas.
“This study is the first to look at how building trends over the last century and sea level rise projections converge on a national scale,” said University of Florida researcher Anna Braswell, first author of the study now published in the journal PLOS One.
“Early on, coastal development was about expansion — increasing the area covered by development. But around the 1980s, things shifted toward densification — putting more infrastructure and people in a given area,” said Ms. Braswell, an assistant professor at the UF/IFAS School.
“When you think of densification, you might imagine somewhere like New York City that is packed with structures, but this trend is happening in many coastal areas. Importantly, we found that densely built areas are more likely to be in the 6-foot sea level rise zone, which is considered a higher risk zone,” she said.
The study also showed that densification is even more pronounced in regions affected by hurricanes.
“Previous studies showed that when people rebuild after hurricanes, they build buildings that are bigger than what was originally there. Our findings complement this insight by showing that in hurricane-prone areas, people build not just bigger but may build more densely after storms. This means that there is more infrastructure potentially in the path of a storm,” Ms. Braswell explained.
According to the U.S. census, about 94.7 million people, or 29.1% of the U.S. population, live in coastal counties.
In many of these places, communities are integrating sea level rise projections into their resiliency plans, Ms. Braswell said.
“When we talk about preparing for sea level rise, the discussion is often about whether communities will adapt existing infrastructure or limit new development. Now that we see densification becoming the norm, our findings suggest that we will probably see more emphasis on adapting existing infrastructure,” she said. ¦
— The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. For more information, see ifas. ufl.edu.
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