Sea Level Rise Migration

Mathew Hauer published the article referenced below in 2017. His conclusion from modeling climate stressors is “I find that unmitigated SLR (sea level rise) is expected to reshape the US population distribution, potentially stressing landlocked areas unprepared to accommodate this wave of coastal migrants.”

Many sea-level rise (SLR) assessments focus on populations presently inhabiting vulnerable coastal communities1,2,3, but to date no studies have attempted to model the destinations of these potentially displaced persons. With millions of potential future migrants in heavily populated coastal communities, SLR scholarship focusing solely on coastal communities characterizes SLR as primarily a coastal issue, obscuring the potential impacts in landlocked communities created by SLR-induced displacement. Here I address this issue by merging projected populations at risk of SLR1 with migration systems simulations to project future destinations of SLR migrants in the United States. I find that unmitigated SLR is expected to reshape the US population distribution, potentially stressing landlocked areas unprepared to accommodate this wave of coastal migrants—even after accounting for potential adaptation. These results provide the first glimpse of how climate change will reshape future population distributions and establish a new foundation for modelling potential migration destinations from climate stressors in an era of global environmental change.

Migration induced by sea-level rise could reshape the US population landscape. Mathew E. Hauer, Nature Climate Change, volume 7, pages 321–325 (2017)
Hauer, 2017, Sea Level Rise Migration Project

Relationships between environmental stressors and migration are highly complex, as responses range from short-term, temporary migration to permanent, long-distance migration. Sea-level rise is a unique environmental stressor because it permanently converts habitable land to uninhabitable water.

“Some of the anticipated landlocked destinations, such as Las Vegas, Atlanta and Riverside, California, already struggle with water management or growth management challenges,” Hauer said. “Incorporating accommodation strategies in strategic long-range planning could help alleviate the potential future intensification of these challenges.”

Migration from sea-level rise could reshape cities inland, Science Daily, April 17, 2017

I’ve been thinking and writing about forced migration due to coastal flooding for some time, and created a Facebook Group named “Overground Railroad” (which only has a couple of members at this point). The group’s description is “A group to explore how to prepare climate refugees to migrate to the Midwest, and how to build communities for them to live in when they arrive.”

What is interesting about Hauer’s modeling is the variety of destinations people are projected to migrate to. I was thinking the Midwest would be the most likely destination because of the increasing heat and drought in the South, and flooding on both coasts. Hauer’s model shows a much greater variety of destinations.

A member of the Overground Railroad Facebook group suggested people on the West coast would more likely move to higher elevations near the coast.

The Midwest as a destination for climate refugees is problematic since we will be dealing with our own damages from climate change, many of which we’re already seeing. Those include flooding, drought, insect infestation, high temperatures, and decreasing crop yields from higher temperatures.

Despite that, I think the Midwest will see an influx of many climate refugees and we should be planning now how to deal with that, as well as our own anticipated climate impacts. This blog post provides some ideas for how to do that.

This morning I read a fascinating article on QUARTZ ( that describes the anticipated climate changes and their effects, decade by decade, for Houston, St Louis and San Francisco. Sea level rise is, of course, one of the changes discussed.

Climate change is already here. It’s not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting US senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.

Instead, we are seeing its creeping effects now—with hurricanes like Maria and Harvey that caused hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in economic damage; with the Mississippi River and its tributaries overflowing their banks this spring, leaving huge swaths of the Midwestern plains under water. Climate change is, at this very moment, taking a real toll on wildlife, ecosystems, economies, and human beings, particularly in the global south, which experts expect will be hit first and hardest. We know from the increasingly apocalyptic warnings being issued by the United Nations that it will only get worse.

What climate change will do to three major American cities by 2100, By Allegra Kirkland, Jeremy Deaton, Molly Taft, Mina Lee & Josh Landis, Quartz ( October 18, 2019

This entry was posted in climate change, climate refugees, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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