Million Dollar Mansions Are Sliding Into the Sea

Rising sea levels due to global warming are having a devastating effect on coastal properties and cities around the world.
Marcia Wendorf

If Hannibal Lecter actor Anthony Hopkins invites you to his house for a barbecue, you may want to think twice about attending, and not because you fear you might be on the menu. Hopkins' house sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and due to beach erosion, its backyard is nearly gone.


Hopkins' home isn't alone. All across California, Oregon and Washington on the West Coast of the U.S., and in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states on the East Coast, million dollar mansions are hanging precariously over cliffs, or have vanished entirely.

Why Is This Happening?

Since 1880, sea levels have risen over 8 inches (23 cm), but three of those inches occurred over the last 25 years. Every year, the sea rises another 0.13 inches (3.2 mm). Sea-level rise is attributed to three factors, all caused by global warming:

Thermal expansion - when water heats up, it occupies more space. Half of sea-level rise that occurred over the past 25 years can be attributed to the oceans warming.

Melting glaciers - every summer, glaciers melt, and every winter, snow created by evaporated sea water, comes down. These two processes used to balance one another, except now, higher temperatures have led to above average melting, and snowfall has been diminished by later winters and earlier springs.

Melting ice sheets - the increased heat from global warming is melting the ice sheets that cover Greenland and Antarctica. Seawater seeping beneath Greenland's ice sheets is lubricating the ice streams, and causing them to flow more quickly into the sea. In 2017, in West Antarctica, there was a large break in the Larsen C ice shelf, and in East Antarctica, glaciers are showing signs of destabilization.

When sea levels rise, it causes destructive beach erosion. Global warming is also causing stronger and more slow-moving hurricanes and typhoons that drop more rain and cause powerful storm surges that strip away everything in their path.

Many coastal cities are planning to adapt to higher sea levels. Jakarta, Indonesia is planning a $40 billion, 80-foot-high seawall. Rotterdam, The Netherlands, has built barriers, drainage, and a "water square" with temporary holding ponds.

In the U.S., the state of Florida is the most at risk, especially its Miami-Dade and Broward counties. They sit on porous bedrock that makes seawalls or levees almost useless. The U.S. cities that will be most affected by sea-level rise are:
1. New York City, New York
2. New Orleans, Louisiana
3. Miami, Florida
4. Hialeah, Florida
5. Virginia Beach, Virginia
6. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
7. Norfolk, Virginia
8. Stockton, California
9. Metairie, Louisiana
10. Hollywood, Florida

The Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded Lower Manhattan and caused massive damage to that city’s financial district. Much of the world's economy flows through that center. Climate scientists predict that it is only a matter of time before a new storm brings the same kind of damage, or even worse.

In response, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has turned to an unusual solution: artificially extending the southern tip of Manhattan. The idea is to place a landfill in front of the financial district and the South Street Seaport to extend the coastline 500 feet into the East River, and create a berm that would be higher than future sea levels. The estimated cost of that project is $10 billion.

Mr. de Blasio unveiled the plan this month in an essay in New York Magazine entitled, "My New Plan to Climate-Proof Lower Manhattan." Being New York, the proposal has caused considerable consternation among New Yorkers who fear losing their views. Other New Yorkers worry that water diverted from affluent Manhattan will inundate less affluent areas such as Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey and the Bronx.

Around the world, entire island chains are in danger of disappearing. In the South Pacific, water around the Solomon Islands has risen 8 millimeters per year since 1993. The capital, Choiseul, is now just 6.6 feet about sea level and five reef islands have already disappeared.

In the popular Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, the World Bank says, that it could be entirely under water by the year 2100.

Palau, located in the Pacific Ocean, has seen its sea level rise by about 0.35 inches per year since 1993. That is three times the global average, and it is expected to rise by 24 additional inches by the year 2090. Public Radio International reports that residents' yards are flooding during full moon high tides.

In beautiful Fiji, a World Bank report says some villages have experienced a loss of 15 to 20 meters of shoreline. Sea levels in Fiji are expected to rise up to 43 centimeters by 2050.

How Do We Stop Sea-Level Rise?


The most recent special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we can expect the oceans to rise between 10 and 30 inches (26 to 77 centimeters) by 2100, with temperatures warming 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Paris Agreement was created to deal with greenhouse gas emissions by keeping global temperature rise this century to less than 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

As of February 2019, 194 states and the European Union have signed the Agreement, and 184 states and the EU have ratified it. On June 1, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. wanted to cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement because "the Paris accord will undermine [the U.S.] economy," and "puts [the U.S.] at a permanent disadvantage."

The U.S. can't officially announce a plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement until November 4, 2019, at which time President Trump can send a letter to the U.N. secretary general notifying him of America’s intent to leave. Then, there is a one-year waiting period before the withdrawal takes effect. This puts it exactly one day after the U.S. 2020 election on November 3, 2020.

Should Mr. Trump lose that election, the newly-elected president could, on inauguration day January 20, 2021, immediately notify the United Nations of the U.S.'s intention to reenter, and after a 30-day period, America would be back in.

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