Energy Institute, The University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute The University of Texas at Austin
Monday April 21 , 2014
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Rising Sea Level Rise Endangers Texas Gulf Coast

Scholars from Leading Texas Universities Release White Paper Assessing Risks to Coastal Communities

Although it may not be noticeable to the naked eye, the sea is rising along the Texas Gulf Coast. In fact, by 2100, much of the Texas coast likely will be under at least a foot of water, endangering not only the economic vitality of low-lying regions but also areas within reach of a storm surge. Even small increases in sea level will exacerbate coastal flooding, contaminate coastal freshwater supplies with salt water, shrink barrier islands, erode beaches, displace marshes, and magnify the impact and cost of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and tropical storms.

Other Gulf Coast states, notably Louisiana and Florida, have taken significant strides forward to study sea level rise and have begun to prepare for the inevitable. Texas lags behind other states in these efforts and for the most part remains unprepared.

As a first step in addressing the problem, the Energy Institute and Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin co-sponsored a workshop at the university’s Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas in September 2012 to identify the current status of sea level rise along the Texas Gulf Coast and assess risks to the region’s ecosystems, communities and economy. Twenty-eight scientists from six of Texas’ leading academic institutions participated in the workshop, along with representatives from the nonprofit, governmental and private sectors.

Workshop attendees released a report on their findings titled The Risk of Rising Sea Level: Texas Universities Ready and Able to Help Coastal Communities Adapt. One of the participants, the Texas Sea Grant College Program at Texas A&M University, also issued a press release.

The Texas coast is an engine of the state’s economy. It supports a thriving commercial fishing industry and a robust tourism trade built around its natural resources, and is an industrial hub of state, national and global significance. The increased rate of sea level rise puts at risk these sensitive environments, as well as coastal communities and the many industries and infrastructure that support them.

The response to sea-level rise is long-term but demands attention now if Texas is to get ahead of the issue. Critical to this effort is additional research that must be conducted to grasp the full magnitude of the threat and to serve as the basis for adaptation to changes on the horizon.