The New, Improved “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents” is Finally Here!

It took some doing, but the paperback version of the 2021 Edition of “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents” is now available on Amazon.com! The Kindle e-reader version is in Amazon’s review process.

The hardest part of writing this year’s edition was forcing myself to stop as new information about global warming and sea level rise kept streaming in. The new book is much more comprehensive than the first edition. It has special chapters that cover developments in the field since the 2020 edition and a detailed description of what happens when sea level rise floodwater streams into a community, neighborhood, and individual property. It also has more information and instructions on how buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents can protect their financial future by performing due diligence — gathering information from more than one source — before they make a critical real estate decision in a coastal city experiencing or soon to experience sea level rise flooding.

The challenge to anyone involved in real estate along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines remains unchanged: There is no single source of reliable information that will give them the facts they need to know about past, present, and future sea level rise flooding. So they have to put on their detectives’ hats and find it themselves. “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents” will give them the tools and insight they need to gather the information they need to make informed decisions.

Please check back often. I’ll have a lot more to say about the book, and, now that Covid-19 appears to be calming down, I’ll post a lot more updates with the latest developments regarding sea level rise and real estate.

Real Estate Owners & Buyers Beware: Sea Level Rise Can Cause The Costly Failure of Cast Iron Pipes

The last couple of years, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has experienced numerous costly and environmentally disastrous cast iron sewer pipe collapses. There are many reasons cast iron pipes fail, but it’s mostly due to corrosion (rust) that degrades the pipes to the point that the effluent escapes through cracks, holes and breaks.

Recently, experts have identified sea level rise as a contributor to the pipe failures. Cast iron is notoriously vulnerable to rusting. Exposure to salty seawater as the water table rises or from repeated flooding can speed up the process.

Unfortunately, the problem of cast iron pipe failures isn’t limited to municipal water systems. Prior to the mid-1970s, cast iron pipes were the pipes of choice to hook up homes to on-site septic systems and municipal water/sewer providers. As sea levels rise and cast iron pipes are increasingly bathed in salty water, these private pipes are put at risk, too.

Buyers and owners of real estate in coastal areas need to pay attention to this threat. A friend of mine bought a home decades ago that was built along the Intracoastal Waterway in the 1940s. This summer, she noticed that her plumbing was backing up frequently. A plumber analyzed the system and found that the problem stemmed from heavily corroded cast iron pipes under her home and yard.

As she found out, repairing or replacing cast iron pipes on even the most basic system can cost into the tens of thousands of dollars. For most of us, that’s a lot of cash.

What should buyers and owners in coastal communities do about cast iron pipes? Owners of homes built before the mid-1970s that are experiencing frequent plumbing problems need to find out if their properties are serviced by cast iron pipes and what shape they’re in. A licensed plumber should be able to inspect the system and issue a report.

Knowing the status of cast iron pipes will help owners to decide whether to leave the pipes alone or to repair or replace them. Time is of the essence, especially since many insurers won’t cover flooding from sewer backups due to corroded pipes. Owners should discuss insurance claims with their insurance providers and also research the possibility of joining existing class action lawsuits against cast iron pipe manufacturers.

Buyers of older home in coastal communities should consider having a licensed home inspector or plumbing contractor inspect the pipes, first to determine if they’re cast iron and second to determine what shape they’re in. The inspector or plumber should be able to assign a rough life expectancy for the pipes. Buyers, however, must keep in mind that the pipes will be increasingly exposed to salt water as sea levels rise. If the pipes are in moderate to poor shape, the decision to proceed with a transaction will depend on the buyers’ ability to absorb the cost of repair or replacement should the pipes begin to fail.

A company called Total Care Restoration has an excellent fact sheet that’s in line with other resources I’ve read about the threat sea level rise poses to cast iron pipes. This link is not provided as an endorsement of their services, it’s only for informational purposes. https://totalcarerestoration.com/cast-iron-pipes/

Video: A Failed Sea Wall, Sea Level Rise Flooding & You

Coastal cities and towns are taking different approaches to sea level rise flooding. Some communities are ignoring the problem and hoping it will just go away, which is irresponsible considering that the burning of fossil fuels continues to warm the Earth, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt, the ocean continues to expand, and sea levels continue to rise at an accelerating pace. Some communities are acknowledging the problem but are waiting for it to hit a critical point before they respond — which might be too late. And still others are taking the responsible approach and planning and implementing projects to fend off the floodwaters, but even this approach, as you’ll see in the video, is not risk free.

To protect their property and jobs, buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents need to know how their community of interest is tackling the challenges posed by sea level rise flooding. And, as this video about a well-intentioned but failed sea wall project in my South Florida community attests, if local government officials are up to the job.

My city clearly illustrates the available options and consequences of which approach a coastal community takes to dealing with sea level rise flooding. Within a half-mile stretch along the Intracoastal Waterway near our downtown core, we have: 1. A section of sea wall currently being raised to protect a roadway, critical infrastructure and million dollar townhouses; 2. A section without a raised sea wall that chronically floods for the four or five month king tide period between September and January with devastating consequences for several property owners; and 3. A section of sea wall that was raised a few years ago that has structural faults that are allowing floodwaters to inundate a park.

As you can see, the city’s approach to managing sea level rise-driven flooding runs the gamut of what’s possible in all coastal communities: Try to protect the property, let it flood, or make an attempt to stop the flooding that, unfortunately, fails. All have lessons for buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents.

If the improved section of sea wall manages to hold back the floodwaters, then the the city may have found a viable solution — at least on a short-term basis. Sea level rise isn’t ending any time soon. (It’s also important to note here that South Florida is built on porous limestone which can allow sea water to flow under sea walls rendering them ineffective.) The section that’s being allowed to flood shows what can happen if a city doesn’t take on the sea level rise challenge, but the waters, as waters do, continue to rise. And the section with the failed sea wall shows the very real and expensive consequences of a well-intended approach that failed.

The failed section of seawall is falling short for two easily visible reasons: 1. Engineers left a yard-wide gap in the seawall so the cruise boats could easily be serviced — which, even with protective measures installed after the fact, allows floodwaters to course through into the park; and 2. Floodwater bubbles up in joints on the park side of the sea wall, indicating some kind of structural failure. Bottom Line: A failed sea wall is as good as no sea wall at all. Property behind it will still be inundated.

With seas continuing to rise, and mere inches of it posing a threat to property, structures, roads and critical infrastructure, it’s clear that buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents can’t afford to ignore the problem. They need to know: 1. How their community of interest intends to take on the sea level rise challenge; 2. How the plan, if any, will impact their property; 3. Whether or not the plan makes sense; and 4. If local officials are up to implementing the plan and taking corrective measures if it fails.

Without this level of knowledge, buyers, sellers and owners could be floored when floodwaters show up on their street or at their doors and they’re hit with higher maintenance costs, higher insurance premiums, higher taxes and, if applicable, association fees. They could also have to park a block from their home, take off their shoes and socks, and wade through the floodwaters to reach their doors.

The Siberian Town that Broke 100 Degrees & You

On Saturday, June 20, the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk located above the Arctic Circle hit a scorching, all-time record high of 100.4 degrees. What’s that have to do with those of us who live thousands of miles away in the U.S.? As residents of the same planet, a lot.

First, the record is a sure sign that the simple science behind climate change, read global warming, is on the mark. It goes like this: We burn fossil fuels (think oil, gasoline, coal), greenhouse gases — most notably carbon dioxide — accumulate in the atmosphere, the greenhouse gases trap radiation from the sun in the atmosphere, and the atmosphere, ocean and land heat up.

Second, the heating of northern climes isn’t just a matter of extreme summer weather. Under the spell of the sun that never sets this time of year up there, the land surface heats up and permafrost begins to melt. As it melts, methane, a more potent but not as long-lasting greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere, leading to even more warming. The feedback cycle generates more and more melt and more and more methane release.

We’re not done with second point yet. The heating of the northern climes also leads to the normally damp land drying out, which results in forest fires. The fires pose at least two threats: They release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — accelerating global warming — and the soot can settle on snow and ice fields. There, the dark soot absorbs solar radiation which result in faster melting. The water pours into the ocean contributing to sea level rise. Scientists witnessed this dynamic when wildfires in Canada coated Greenland’s ice sheet in soot and melting occurred at a faster rate.

Third, the global warming-driven record high temperatures in Siberia, Alaska, Greenland and other high latitude locations can alter weather patterns. Specifically, they can cause a buildup of high pressure areas that stall the jet stream, which normally keeps weather systems moving from west to east. When they stall, they, too, can heat up. This is contributing to the seemingly never-ending series of monthly high temperature records being set around the globe.

So, what’s all this have to do with you (us)? Record heat above the Arctic Circle is clearly a warning sign that the climate is changing more rapidly than many scientists anticipated. We have pumped more carbon into the atmosphere than has been recorded in millions of years. As a result, there is the very real risk that high temperatures now considered unusual will soon become the norm while extreme high temperatures become, well, more extreme. This cycle could accelerate to the point where, quite frankly, parts of the planet could become inhospitable to human life.

The reality of rapid global warming already poses a threat to millions of people who live in coastal areas. Many of us reside in cities and towns that are already experiencing sea level rise flooding or will likely experience it in the coming years. If the planet warms faster than expected, it’s likely that the rapid melt Greenland experienced due to extremely high temperatures last summer will become the norm. The warming could also cause the Arctic ice sheet, the other major contributor to higher seas, to become further destabilized as floating ice sheets that hold back inland glaciers break off the continent. If enough sea ice vanishes, inland glaciers could become uncorked and rush from land into the sea. The combination of melt in Greenland and a river of Arctic glaciers spilling into the ocean could lead to seas rising much faster than predicted when many locations are already struggling with the foot or so of sea level rise that’s been recorded in the last hundred or so years.

The bottom line for you (us) is global warming is fact. The heating we’re now witnessing and its consequences was anticipated decades ago by the majority of climate scientists. The only real X-factors are how much fossil fuels we’ll burn in the years to come and exactly how fast they’ll warm the atmosphere, ocean and land.

So where does this leave you (us)? Science says the only way to stop the dangerous global warming feedback loop is for humans to burn less fossil fuels. It’s that simple. To achieve this objective, we need to elect leaders who are dedicated to the cause and give our business to companies that help us to trade fossil fuels for environmentally-friendly energy sources.

If we fail to cut back on releasing carbon into the atmosphere, the tiny town in Siberia will prove to be the canary in the coal mine none of the miners listened to.

Virginia Beach Restricts Real Estate Development in Bold Sea Level Rise Plan

The city council in Virginia Beach, Virginia, voted this week in favor of a bold new plan to combat sea level rise and intense storm flooding. The city, which is in an area that already experiences climate change-driven flooding, requires developers to take more stringent steps to plan for flooding from sea level rise and strong storms.

Under the new plan, the city is calling on developers to design projects that handle 20 percent more rainfall than the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts for the region. As the earth’s atmosphere continues to warm, climate experts predict more storms with downpours capable of flooding. The city is also requiring developers to replace the methods they’re now using to predict where stormwater runoff will go with more accurate Environmental Protection Agency software.

The city’s plan also includes provisions that require new construction projects to accommodate flooding due to sea level rise predicted between now and 2085. Hospitals and other critical infrastructure will have to be built to handle 3 feet of sea level rise. Non-critical structures will have to cope with 1.5 feet of higher seas.

Acting City Manager Tom Leahy told The Virginia-Pilot that replacing old regulations with the new plan now will save the city money tomorrow. “The more we develop under the old standards, the more we’re going to have to fix down the road,” he said.

Virginia Beach’s investment in these regulations and other steps to combat flooding from sea level rise, storm surges and rainstorms is expected to save millions of dollars each year. The city says some federal funding will be needed to cover the cost of the new projects.

Virginia Beach’s pro-active approach to climate change related flooding is commendable. Many major coastal cities are allowing expensive development with little thought to the impending threat and the cost to future generations.

This brings up an important point for real estate buyers: Just because a coastal community allows development doesn’t meant it is immune to flooding. Always perform due diligence to find out if a property of interest experiences flooding or is likely to experience flooding during the period you intend to own it. Also consider the fact that flooding can result in higher carrying costs for maintenance, taxes and insurance and it may cause the property value to decline.

Can We Rely on Mangroves to Provide a Line of Defense against Sea Level Rise Flooding?

One of the greatest challenges involved in combatting sea level rise flooding is finding solutions that will stand the test of time. Some coastal communities have been seeking natural solutions, such as sand dunes, wetlands and native vegetation, to hold back ever-higher tides and storm surges. Planners recognize the ability of natural ecosystems to self-regulate and adjust to sea water as it exerts pressure to march inland.

In the U.S., some southern Atlantic and Gulf Coast communities have been including mangroves in their action plans. They’re counting on the thick, leafy forests that thrive in shallow coastal waters to not only absorb and store some of the carbon released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels that’s driving global warming but to act as a buffer against storm surges and higher tides. They also hope to benefit from the mangroves ability to capture sediments and build land when the seas are trying to erode it away.

The idea sounded great until a recent study led by Macquarie University in Australia found that unless humans reduce the release of greenhouse gases, the seas will soon rise at a faster pace than the mangroves can accommodate. With sea level rise accelerating, due to ocean expansion and the ever-quickening pace of ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica, the mangroves could start to disappear within the next thirty years.

Unfortunately, real estate alone won’t pay the price when mangroves are gone. Mangroves provide a valuable nursery for birds, fish and other organisms. Their loss will endanger whole ecosystems.

The Loss of Louisiana Marshes to Sea Level Rise Puts New Orleans Real Estate at Risk

Over the course of the last several decades, people have come to recognize the value of coastal marshlands as both incubators of aquatic birds and marine life and as buffers to floods and storm surges that can quickly inundate valuable real estate. A recent study published on the American Academy for the Advancement of Science’s Science Advances website reached the troubling conclusion that sea level rise is occurring at such a fast pace that the marshes that protect New Orleans and surrounding communities could vanish beneath the waves in the next fifty years.

Scientists studied over 8,000 years of marsh history to determine that the marshes have reached a “tipping point” where they are being consumed by the ocean faster than they can adjust to higher sea levels. The study’s lead scientist, Torbjorn Tornqvist, a professor of geology at Tulane University, told the Washington Post that even with efforts to reduce the production of earth-warming greenhouse gases, the marshland’s fate could be sealed. “We know the rate of sea level rise, even with the best action you can imagine, it’s still going to ramp up further,” he said. “Given the slowness of the ocean responses, it’s going to last for a very long time.”

The ocean has been gnawing away at the protective marshlands for decades. Experts blame the loss on the penning in of the Mississippi River channel, which used to spread land-building sediment broadly across the river delta, and on channels cut through the marshes for petroleum company pipelines. Louisiana is trying to reverse some of the damage by diverting some of the river’s sediment-rich flow out of the manmade channel and onto adjacent lands.

Professor Tornqvist sees this as a way to buy time that ultimately won’t save the city from inundation. “I think a couple of decades is incredibly valuable,” he said, “because it could be the difference between a somewhat managed retreat verses complete chaos.”

The researchers believe their study could prove valuable to all coastal communities that rely on marshlands as a buffer against sea level rise flooding and storm surges. “Our findings highlight the need for consideration of longer time windows in determining the vulnerability of coastal marshes worldwide,” they wrote in their study abstract.

The takeaway for buyers and owners of real estate in coastal areas protected by marshlands is to recognize that they’re not wastelands but a critical part of the ecosystem that protect their property from flooding. With that in mind, it’s important for them to learn about the health of the local marshes as well as their predicted life-expectancy under pressure from sea level rise.

Challenges Facing Southeast Florida — Ground Zero for Sea Level Rise Flooding — Described in Exhaustive BBC Report

With its low elevation and proximity to lots of water on all sides and underfoot, Southeast Florida is clearly ground zero for sea level rise flooding. The BBC recently published an exhaustive report on the current status of sea level rise in the region — that includes the Florida Keys all the way north through Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach — and the challenges of controlling the inundation. The report makes fascinating required reading for anyone investing in residential and commercial real estate in coastal areas that are threatened by surging tides.

The BBC report, written by Amanda Ruggeri, is full of fascinating facts about sea level rise. Among them:

  1. Current predictions are that sea level could rise by up to 10 inches in the region by 2030 and 5 feet by 2100.
  2. Each additional inch of sea level rise can have a substantial affect on coastal real estate.
  3. The region has more people at risk from sea level rise than any other state, and Miami, specifically, has more financial assets at risk than any other major coastal city in the world.
  4. Cities in the region are already making changes to infrastructure to address sea level rise flooding, including raising roads and seawalls and installing hundreds of tidal valves and pump stations.
  5. Despite the efforts to hold back the sea, experts recognize that they will not be able to save every property and neighborhood from flooding.
  6. Every community faces different challenges. Governments, homeowners, business owners, taxpayers, insurers, developers, engineers and planners are going to have to work together to decide how to address sea level rise in their communities.
  7. Each community is an intricate puzzle where making a change to one piece of infrastructure, such as raising a segment of seawall or roadway, can lead to the unintended flooding of neighboring properties.
  8. Reaching consensus can lead to clashes over proposed solutions, costs, potential impacts and private property rights.
  9. Among the encouraging signs is that in the absence of federal and state leadership, county and local governments are forming regional partnerships to address sea level rise in a coordinated fashion.
  10. Among the discouraging signs is that finding funding sources for the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects needed to hold back the rising tides is difficult.

While the BBC report provides a broad, holistic view of how Southeast Florida is tackling sea level rise flooding, real estate buyers, owners and agents still need to invest time and effort evaluating how rising tides are impacting their properties and communities before making decisions. Sea level rise is already resulting in increased property maintenance costs, taxes, insurance and association fees in some areas. It’s also hurting the rate of property value appreciation and forcing extreme measures, such as road abandonment and property buy-outs.

As the polar ice caps continue to melt and the oceans expand due to global warming, these sea level rise is going to challenge more and more coastal residents.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Threatens to Worsen the Effects of Global Warming and Sea Level Rise

Two widely reported (and rare) positive impacts of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic tragedy are cleaner air and a 17 percent reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming and sea level rise.

Residents in cities around the world have been astonished to see mountain ranges at a distance that have rarely been seen in generations due to curtains of smog. And the drop in greenhouse gas emissions has led many to believe that global warming and sea level rise have been derailed.

Unfortunately, the real picture isn’t so rosy. While there have been a few months with greenhouse gases on the decline — mainly due to the fact that people under lockdown aren’t driving to work — the the high concentration of carbon dioxide accumulated since the turn of the last century remains intact. This ultimately means global warming continues, as does sea level rise.

Some observers see even the temporary drop in the release of greenhouse gases as proof-positive that humanity can tame global warming, thereby preventing the predicted extreme weather — mega droughts, heat waves, floods and intense hurricanes — from impacting society and sea level rise from inundating major cities around the world. Their reasoning is that if people under threat of a pandemic can reduce consumption of fossil fuels, then people facing catastrophe from a warming planet can do the same.

If only it were that simple.

The fact is that most people reduced fossil fuel consumption not as a direct goal to save the environment but because under lockdown they didn’t have a choice. It’s doubtful that without the immediate crisis people would have willingly stopped driving. In addition, there are signs that as nations and states reopen commuters will avoid potential exposure to the virus on public transportation and start driving to work in increasing numbers. This, of course, will increase the rate at which carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere.

Some observers have also opined that the recovery from the pandemic is an excellent opportunity for governments to invest in a new world powered by renewable energy. That’s a very noble goal, but the reality is governments have already spent so much saving their economies from pandemic-related collapse it’s unlikely they’ll have the funds necessary to pay for such an ambitious project.

Further complicating matters in the United States is the fact that the federal government is reluctant to provide emergency funding to state and local governments facing severe deficits due to the loss of tax revenue from economic inactivity during the lockdown and the unexpected expenses involved in dealing with the pandemic. This is especially worrisome because many of the state and local governments grappling with climate change and sea level rise-related expenses were already counting on the federal government to provide a portion of the millions and even billions of dollars they need to fund projects that would protect real estate and critical infrastructure. Without federal assistance, it will be difficult for them to pay for projects, such as seawalls and pump stations and raising roads and water pipes.

When we’re in the middle of the pandemic, it’s hard to predict how this will all play out. One thing’s for sure, however, global warming and sea level rise still pose a threat to coastal communities, and real estate buyers and owners ignore them at their own peril. Bottom Line: If many of the projects needed to protect homes and businesses from sea level rise flooding aren’t funded and begun now, more real estate and critical infrastructure will be inundated in the years to come.

Antarctica and Greenland Ice Melt Raised Sea Levels a Half Inch In the Last 16 Years — NASA Report

NASA scientists crunched data from satellite missions to determine that ice melt in Antarctica and Greenland over the last 16 years raised sea levels about half an inch. Put another way, the researchers said both locations contributed 5,000 gigatons of water to the oceans which is enough to fill Lake Michigan.

Ice melt and ocean expansion due to global warming are the primary contributors to sea level rise. Experts are concerned that the rate of melting is picking up pace. Helen Fricker, a glaciologist at the University of California-San Diego, told National Public Radio, “How much ice we are going to lose, and how quickly we are going to lose it, is a really key thing that needs to be understood, so that we can plan.”

There are two main forces driving the melting in Antarctica and Greenland. In Antarctica, warming oceans are melting floating ice shelves, which is allowing land based ice to flow into the ocean. In Greenland, warmer atmospheric temperatures are melting ice and creating run-off. At the same time, the warmer air is also causing glacial ice to calve off and fall into the ocean.

If all the ice melted in Greenland alone, scientists estimate global sea levels would rise 23 feet. Fricker told NPR, “There’s a lot of infrastructure and airports and people that live right on the ocean, and these people are going to feel the effects of sea level rise that’s resulted because the ice sheets have melted.”