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Sea Level Rise Map Shows 30 Wash. Towns Inundated


Update: The original version of this story incorrectly summarized this study as showing populations to be displaced by 2100 if current trends continue. Author Ben Strauss sent the following correction: "by 2100, we would most likely be *locked in* to such an outcome in a more distant future, time unspecified, but essentially inevitable." We have updated the story accordingly. 

The warming climate is causing sea levels to rise as oceans expand, and, combined with more frequent storms, the effects could be devastating.

A new map shows more than 1,400 towns in the U.S., 30 in Washington state, where half the population will be displaced  if current trends continue through the end of this century.

The map, based on analysis recently published by the National Academy of Sciences, looks at what would happen if we do nothing to change our pollution rates until 2100. Warming from greenhouse gases would cause sea level to rise by more than 21 feet. 

In Washington, the report says 30 communities along the coast, Puget Sound, and the Columbia River would be so inundated that more than half the population would have to move. That would be the worst-case scenario, says Washington state’s climatologist Nick Bond, but it also shows real and possible impacts of climate change.

“No matter what, if we have something like a one-meter rise in sea level, there’s going to be tremendous implications for the state. And it’s not just limited to those 30 municipalities that were listed in that report,” Bond said. 

The list includes towns like Neah Bay on the Olympic Peninsula where some communities are already experiencing chronic flooding. Also listed are Fife and Edison. The list doesn’t include Seattle, which recently released its own map predicting large parts of its industrial port at Harbor Island would be flooded if the highest tides combine with a storm.

“That is very low elevation. It’s land that was basically created when Denny Hill was washed away. And with a one meter sea level rise, I’m not sure much of that area is going to be usable,” Bond said.

The report, which Bond emphasizes assumes the most extreme circumstances, predicts more than five feet of sea level rise if there is no change in our greenhouse gas outputs by the end of this decade. It says that would cause more than four million people in the U.S. to lose their home towns. 

The following is a complete list of Washington towns shown on the worst-case scenario map:

Aberdeen, Bay Center, Chinook, Cohassett Beach, Conway, Copalis Beach, Edison, Fife, Grayland, Hoquiam, Jamestown, Kelso, La Conner, Long Beach, Longview, Neah Bay, Ocean City, Ocean Park, Ocean Shores, Oyehut, Puget Island, Silvana, Skokomish, South Bend, Taholah, Tokeland, Westport, Whidbey Island Station, Willapa, Woodland.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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