Coming to a Coastal Area Near You — Drowning Real Estate

June 27, 2018
A zip code map showing homes along the New Jersey coast at risk of chronic inundation in 2045. It’s one of the hotspots picked up by a new database that details local risk to real estate around the United States. Image: Union of Concerned Scientists

TipSheet: Coming to a Coastal Area Near You — Drowning Real Estate

It may not have the bloodcurdling immediacy of “Jaws,” but for environmental reporters in coastal areas, it’s a story that’s just as chilling: Hundreds of thousands of coastal homes may be inundated and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of real estate lost in coming years with climate change-induced sea level rise and flooding.

As climate warms in coming decades from human emissions, rising temperatures will physically expand the water in the oceans. Melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica will add further to the total water in the ocean. High tides and storm surges will reach places they haven’t reached before. Formerly rare and small floods will become more frequent and bigger.

This is not just about beachfront property, by the way. Along the convoluted U.S. shoreline, bays, estuaries and wetlands extend the reach of sea level rise far inland, where there reside many permanent residents and valuable businesses.

Making it easy to zoom in on what’s at risk in your specific area is the latest study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, using granular data from the real estate database company Zillow. UCS estimates that over 150,000 homes could see frequent flooding from high tides over the next 15 years, and that the number could double by 2045.


The study is one of the

most localizable sea level

rise predictions available.


The UCS study is handy for journalists because it breaks the data down by state, community and even ZIP code. It also puts the data into interactive map form. In other words, it is one of the most localizable sea level rise predictions available.

UCS has offered other data products useful to reporters in the past, including an interactive map viewer.

Numerous resources to cover coastal flood risk

UCS is hardly the only group making these predictions. If you want to cover coastal flooding, of course, it’s key to visit coastal properties and talk to owners. But it’s also useful to know the many authoritative sources.

Recently, for instance, the Insurance Journal published a story about sea level rise concerns for businesses based on a study by the Risk Institute at Ohio State University.

Another source is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Just weeks before the UCS report, NOAA issued an annual report on coastal flooding through the National Centers for Environmental Information, one of several sub-agencies that measure and study things like coastal flooding.

In the report, NOAA details actual flooding in 2017, and offers a 2018 outlook. The headline? Tidal coastal flooding had set a record in 2017.

NOAA also has a special mission to support coastal communities. One manifestation is its Digital Coast program, part of which is very well documented online: Sea Level Rise Viewer.

Another agency involved with mapping coastal vulnerabilities is the U.S. Geological Survey. USGS studies these things on a purely scientific level. But it also offers its expertise to the public in map form.

Another really good source of information is Climate Central, a nonprofit nonpartisan group devoted to sharing accurate scientific information. Climate Central publishes a “risk zone map” that shows the threats from sea level rise on a global scale. It has loads of links to the scientific studies behind their materials.

You can even use Google Maps to look at sea level rise.

Best of show reporting

And if you’re looking for model ways to report this story using coastal flooding data, here are some of the many good examples:

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 3, No. 26. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

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