Last week, scientists reported that humans have already pumped enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to cause enough global warming to guarantee that Greenland alone will contribute up to a foot of sea level rise. This week, scientists added to the bad news by reporting that Antarctica’s so called “doomsday glacier” is melting rapidly from the bottom and its collapse could potentially add a devastating 10 feet to ocean levels. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, this week researchers also observed a heat wave melting Greenland’s ice sheet at a rate more typical of mid-July than the beginning of September, which means even more water running off the land to the ocean where it contributes to sea level rise.
Unfortunately for people trying to decide whether or not a coastal community is a good place to invest in real estate based on past and present sea level rise flooding, the rapid changes in Antarctica and Greenland could be sudden and decisive game changers. If ice sheets in Greenland or Antarctica continue to rapidly destabilize, events that cause sudden increases in sea level rise could become the new normal, just as we’ve seen climate change drive an increase in the number of what used to be called 100-year flooding events due to excessive rain at locations around the globe.
As humans continue to burn fossil fuels that pump massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we’re sure to see upward revisions in the pace and height of sea level rise. This makes it very difficult for buyers who want to purchase a property using a 30-year mortgage in areas currently experiencing sea level rise flooding or that are at risk of flooding in the decades to come to make informed decisions. It also makes it difficult for current owners to decide whether or not they should continue to hold a property in an at-risk area.
Further compounding the risk for buyers and owners of real estate in coastal communities is the reality that scientists aren’t the only ones monitoring the factors that can speed up sea level rise. Insurers and mortgage providers who share the risk with buyers and owners are also keeping a keen eye on the latest developments and acting accordingly. Private insurers are abandoning some markets where sea level rise-intensified storm surge flooding poses too great a risk. And mortgage providers that have to peer thirty years in the future to see if they’re going to make a profit on a loan are being ever more careful in the loan approval process.
If insurers and/or mortgage providers decide that doing business in at-risk coastal communities isn’t worth it, this could throw local real estate markets into turmoil. The risk isn’t just theoretical. Florida, for example, considered the most at-risk state for sea level rise-intensified storm surge and so-called sea level rise nuisance flooding, is already seeing property insurers pull out of the market in part because they’re not solvent enough to assume the risk. This has left thousands of homeowners scrambling for new private insurance policies or turning to state-run Citizens Property Insurance, which was supposed to be the insurer of last resort. The state has been seeking solutions to the property insurance crisis that’s sure to worsen as sea level continues to rise.
Homeowners with federally backed mortgages are required to carry adequate property and flood insurance. If the insurance market collapses, most buyers will not be able to get loans. This in turn will cause properties to lose value.
Experts stress that there’s still time for humans to stop burning fossil fuels at a rate that contributes to global warming and sea level rise. There are steps being taken to rein it in, but whether effective action will be taken quickly enough to avert disaster in Greenland and Antarctica has yet to be seen. The ice sheets in both locations are definitely growing hazards that few people involved in coastal real estate can afford to ignore.