Silent Surge: What rising sea levels do to USA’s East Coast

Climate change is a silent disaster. One way it notifies of its presence is by raising the sea levels. Since the 1880s, the sea level has risen by 8 inches, with the current pace of rise measuring more than an inch per 10 years. The expansion of the sea brings with it several consequences. The USA with its approximate 100,000 miles of coastline is at considerable risk.

Dr. Sönke Dangendorf of Tulane University in New Orleans says, “Most of the United States coastlines are very vulnerable as they are in most cases not protected by levees or barrier systems.” NASA’s observation suggests that the USA’s East Coast is at particular risk due to rising sea levels. North Carolina, which is nestled in this belt has hence experienced many calamities, like tornadoes and hurricanes. 

Dr. Dangendorf adds, “Over the past decades particularly the Mid-Atlantic Bight region has experienced a rapid increase in minor tidal flood events, which are a direct result of the underlying sea-level rise.” Rising sea level also translates into a lack of secure dependency on the ocean for a livelihood. The Mid-Atlantic region depends on the ocean for its livelihood and this in turn produces 15% of the U.S. total ocean GDP.

Causes behind sea rise

The dominant notion suggests that the rise in sea level is caused by the melting of the ice caps. Which is true but not the whole picture. Dr. Dangendorf explains, “The dominant cause behind the acceleration over the past ~15 years has been ocean warming and changes in ocean circulation in the adjacent North Atlantic Ocean. We have found that ~40% of this acceleration can be explained by long-term (man-made) warming, while ~60% is due to natural variations related to changing wind patterns over the tropical Atlantic.”

“Sea level changes due to shrinking glaciers and ice sheets have also contributed to this rise, but way less than the aforementioned factors.”


In a ten-year period, the region saw Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Ian. A common thread between the 2 was elevated sea level. “Sea-level rise has increased the baseline upon which storm surges, for instance during land-falling hurricanes, can build up making the surges way more destructive” explains Dr. Dangendorf.

In conclusion, he adds, “What was a once-in-a-lifetime event in the past will happen every couple of years in the future if sea levels continue to rise at accelerated rates. As a society, we will need to become way more resilient to be able to absorb and recover from an increased number of extreme events.


Sea Level Rise |

Coasts | U.S. Geological Survey

Which areas of the world will be most affected by sea-level rise over the next century, and after that?

The U.S. Mid-Atlantic Region