John Englander is an oceanographer and expert on sea level rise who takes pride in his ability to explain the watery issues plaguing our planet without jargon or bias. His weekly Sea Level Rise Now newsletter on his website (johnenglander.net) is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to educate themselves on the societal and financial impacts ahead. When it comes to designing for a rising sea, he recognizes that it can pose a real challenge for architects, but that they inevitably must be the leaders.
One element of sea level rise that affects architects locally is land subsiding—going down—or uplifting—going up. And it’s a very big variation from place to place. In the last century, sea level has risen about 9 inches as a global average. But in New Orleans, it looks like 46 inches; in Virginia Beach, it looks like 30 inches; in New York, 14, and in Los Angeles, 4. The difference between those numbers, over the same period of time, is because the land has moved up or down to a certain degree. So if the global sea level rises 8 to 10 inches, but land is also rising or sinking for various reasons that can have a huge effect on the amount of rise that projects need to anticipate. Sea level rise adds to other flooding risks but it is different in that it is relatively slow, global in scope, and will not recede for centuries.