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Are ports prepared for sea level rise?

April 8, 2022 Kevin Baxter

Sea Port

The potential impacts of climate change are many, but one that particularly affects ports is sea level rise. With oceans projected to rise 10-12 inches in the next 30 years on U.S. coastlines, ports must be prepared for both the day-to-day impacts and those when storms strike. Why should the average shipper or consumer be concerned about this? Because between 90 and 100% of all international freight passes through ocean ports. If major ports are unprepared for sea level rise, it will have major consequences on domestic and global supply chains. So that begs the question: Are ports prepared for sea level rise? The answer is, it depends. Some, like Los Angeles, seem well prepared, some are in the process of preparing and others may find themselves sunk. Regardless, there are steps ports can take to mitigate the impact of sea level rise.

How can ports prepare for sea level rise?

Ports are by design located directly on the coast, so with projections of significant sea level rise, making the right moves to prepare is essential to their long-term viability. A few of the more straight-forward - though hardly simple - preparations include:

  • Taller pilings to secure docks
  • Equipment with elevated motors
  • Raising and reinforcing structures
  • Building sea walls and/or other protective barriers
  • Relocating to higher ground

All of these options bring with them heavy costs along with extensive engineering and construction efforts that will take time. Think about that last point - relocating to higher ground. It's like The Simpsons' solution to a time when trash and litter overran their town - they just moved down the road. But it won't be as simple as putting the infrastructure on tow trucks. It's vital that any current port improvement projects account for sea level rise impacts. Otherwise, they'll need to be done again in the not too distant future. The problem is, that's not routinely occurring.

And we should note, that when discussing sea level rise and ports, the worst of the impacts will come with high tides in low-lying areas, and storms. Evidence is pointing to stronger tropical cyclones associated with climate change impacts. Stronger storms coupled with higher sea levels is a recipe for potential disaster. The Ports of New Orleans and Mobile had previews of this with Hurricane Katrina, and ports in the northeast dealt with similar issues due to Hurricane Sandy.

If you're ready to take the next step, at InTek Freight & Logistics, we can help. Just tell us what you need and we'll discuss how our expertise can help with the unique shipping challenges your business faces. Rather do a bit more research first? View our Freight Guides for comprehensive articles and eBooks on all things freight and logistics.

And below, find a few resources to help you learn more about sustainability in supply chains:

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