Saltwater Intrusion Threatens the US and the World’s Coasts

Graphic: Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

By Natasha Laskin, ODP Contributing Writer

ABC News reports that there is a creeping underground invasion of our coasts, and it is moving inland much faster than had been previously thought, according to new research funded by the National Science Foundation.  The stealth invader?  Saltwater, which is infiltrating our coastal communities and creating unseen risks well in advance of the surface floods that drown our homes and businesses.  Climate change is elevating sea levels, increased the number and intensity of severe storms, and now we are beginning to see that saltwater has seeped into the land itself, which is soaking it up like a sponge, destroying coastal forests, crops, medicinal plants, and even groundwater supplies. With the Trump administration in climate denial, four Louisiana Native American tribes even took the unprecedented step of asking the United Nations to compel the U.S. government to take action on salt that is invading their lands.

Why this Matters:  This problem will become more and more common as climate change continues, causing widespread displacement across the world.  Seawater moving inland would poison a number of essential natural resources for those who live on the coasts — which comprises 40% of Americans.   Experts say in the short term we can’t stop the seas from rising, but we can manage the problem if we have buy-in from farmers, coastal communities, and local governments and if we use science-based solutions.

Latest Findings in the U.S.

The Howard Center of Investigative Journalism found a number of frightening effects from saltwater invasion across the country:

A Global Problem

People tend to settle near river deltas with large amounts of sediment, like the Mekong delta in Vietnam and Cambodia, the Ganges Brahmaptura delta in Bangladesh and India, and the Mississippi Delta in the United States. Because of this, if ocean levels rise, saltwater intrusion could become a major problem.  Unfortunately, however, because deltas are at—or even below—sea level, that means if ocean levels rise even slightly, they’re in trouble. This flooding could displace hundreds of millions in India and China, and millions in Australia and South America.

“It’s like the early stages of cancer,” Daniel Cozad, executive director of the Central Valley Salinity Coalition, told ABC. “You don’t feel it, you don’t see it and everything seems to be pretty normal. But if you’re not keeping track of it, it can get much worse.”

To Go Deeper: This video from Atlas Pro, a geographer and scientist who makes climate change youtube videos, shows the scope and consequences of coastal flooding.

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