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Sea-Level Rise

The Texas Gulf Coast is considered one of the most vulnerable regions in the United States to rising sea levels1. As global temperatures rise, Earth's oceans absorb a significant portion of the excess heat, causing the water to expand2,3,4. At the same time, glaciers and ice sheets are melting at progressively rapid rates, increasing the water content of the oceans5. Together, these two processes lead to rising sea levels6,7. Depending on large ocean circulation patterns, certain areas are subject to more rise as water is "pushed" into those areas8. In some areas, including Texas, the land is subsiding due to groundwater production, which causes sediments to compress, further increasing relative sea-level rise9,10.

Since 1900, the global sea level has risen 7 to 8 feet with a rate of 1.2 inches per decade since 19907,11. For the Texas coast, records from tidal gauges show that the sea level is rising faster than it has at any point in the last 3,000 years. This rate is equivalent to the height of two stacked quarters per year, which is over two inches per decade and twice that of the global average5,6,12. Such a significant rate is the result of both rising sea levels and the sinking of coastal land, called subsidence. The excessive pumping of underground water, oil, or natural gas forms pockets and causes the surface to decline10,13,14,15.

While coastal groundwater extraction is declining, this reduction in subsidence is negated by the increased rates in sea level rise9. The most recent climate projections suggest Texas will experience 10 to 12 inches of sea level rise by 205016. Climate models project global mean sea levels may increase by 1 to 4 feet by the end of the century compared to the beginning5. Texas' sea level rise will likely be at a greater rate, possibly exceeding four feet by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not significantly reduced12,17. Current and future rising sea levels significantly elevate the risk and damage to critical infrastructure and the severity of hurricanes along the Texas coastline. Elevated sea levels also cause the erosion of coastal habitat, submerging both tidal wetlands and barrier islands, affecting many species of birds and fish, and removing natural barriers to coastal flooding11. Learn more about sea level rise's effect on Texas' infrastructure and floods by following the links embedded here and resources below.

Digital Coast: Produced in collaboration with NOAA, Digital Coast provides coastal data, tools, and training for coastal managers to help make informed decisions and understand how climate change impacts their communities.

Sea Level Rise Viewer: A screening-level tool with the best-available and nationally consistent data sets visualizing sea-level rise and coastal flooding impact data for the contiguous United States. Texas’ overview page is found here.

Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

Surging Seas Risk Finder: Interactive toolkit of sea-level rise projections integrated with flood risk forecasts to improve the understanding and responses to the risks associated with coastal flooding and sea-level rise. 

Texas General Land Office coastal management resources: Hosts links to conservation, tourism, citizen science programs, the latest legislative reports, guides for sustainable coastal management, information on shoreline change and codes, restoration GIS datasets, oil spill toolkits, sediment profile and erosion geodatabases, sea-level rise tracking, and land use maps.

The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies is conducting a comprehensive multidisciplinary assessment of the impacts of sea-level rise in Texas.

U.S. coastline to see up to a foot of sea level rise by 2050 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change: An Assessment of the Texas Mid-Coast

Image Gallery

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  1. Kloesel, K., B. Bartush, J. Banner, D. Brown, J. Lemery, X. Lin, C. Loeffler, G. McManus, and others 2018. Chapter 23: Southern great plains. Impacts, risks, and adaptation in the United States: The fourth national climate assessment, volume II. U.S. Global Change Research Program.
  2. Kuhlbrodt, T., and J. Gregory. 2012. Ocean heat uptake and its consequences for the magnitude of sea level rise and climate change. Geophysical Research Letters 39. Wiley Online Library.
  3. Abraham, J. P., M. Baringer, N. Bindoff, T. Boyer, L. Cheng, J. Church, J. Conroy, C. Domingues, and others 2013. A review of global ocean temperature observations: Implications for ocean heat content estimates and climate change. Reviews of Geophysics 51. Wiley Online Library: 450–483.
  4. Tanaka, K. R., and K. S. Van Houtan. 2022. The recent normalization of historical marine heat extremes. PLOS Climate 1. Public Library of Science San Francisco, CA USA: e0000007.
  5. IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N.Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R.Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)].nCambridge University Press. In Press.
  6. Dangendorf, S., C. Hay, F. M. Calafat, M. Marcos, C. G. Piecuch, K. Berk, and J. Jensen. 2019. Persistent acceleration in global sea-level rise since the 1960s. Nature Climate Change 9. Nature Publishing Group: 705–710.
  7. Horwath, M., B. D. Gutknecht, A. Cazenave, H. K. Palanisamy, F. Marti, F. Paul, R. Le Bris, A. E. Hogg, and others 2022. Global sea-level budget and ocean-mass budget, with a focus on advanced data products and uncertainty characterisation. Earth System Science Data 14. Copernicus GmbH: 411–447.
  8. Dangendorf, S., T. Frederikse, L. Chafik, J. M. Klinck, T. Ezer, and B. D. Hamlington. 2021. Data-driven reconstruction reveals large-scale ocean circulation control on coastal sea level. Nature Climate Change 11. Nature Publishing Group: 514–520.
  9. Al Mukaimi, M. E., T. M. Dellapenna, and J. R. Williams. 2018. Enhanced land subsidence in Galveston Bay, Texas: Interaction between sediment accumulation rates and relative sea level rise. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 207. Elsevier: 183–193.
  10. Zhou, X., G. Wang, K. Wang, H. Liu, H. Lyu, and M. J. Turco. 2021. Rates of Natural Subsidence along the Texas Coast Derived from GPS and Tide Gauge Measurements (1904–2020). Journal of Surveying Engineering 147. American Society of Civil Engineers: 04021020.
  11. Runkle, J., K. E. Kunkel, J. Nielson-Gammon, R. Frankson, S. M. Champion, B. C. Stewart, L. Romolo, and W. Sweet. 2022. Texas State Climate Summary 2022. Vol. 5. Silver Spring, MD.
  12. Wuebbles, D. J., D. W. Fahey, and K. A. Hibbard. 2017. Climate science special report: fourth national climate assessment, volume I.
  13. Yang, Z., T. Wang, R. Leung, K. Hibbard, T. Janetos, I. Kraucunas, J. Rice, B. Preston, and others 2014. A modeling study of coastal inundation induced by storm surge, sea-level rise, and subsidence in the Gulf of Mexico. Natural Hazards 71. Springer: 1771–1794.
  14. Miller, M. M., and M. Shirzaei. 2021. Assessment of future flood hazards for southeastern Texas: Synthesizing subsidence, sea-level rise, and storm surge scenarios. Geophysical Research Letters 48. Wiley Online Library: e2021GL092544.
  15. Nielsen-Gammon, J., S. Holman, A. Buley, S. Jorgensen, J. Escobedo, C. Ott, J. Dedrick, and A. Van Fleet. 2021. Assessment of Historic and Future Trends of Extreme Weather in Texas, 1900-2036. OSC-202101. Texas A&M University.
  16. Sweet, W.V., B.D. Hamlington, R.E. Kopp, C.P. Weaver, P.L. Barnard, D. Bekaert, W. Brooks, M. Craghan, G. Dusek, T. Frederikse, G. Garner, A.S. Genz, J.P. Krasting, E. Larour, D. Marcy, J.J. Marra, J. Obeysekera, M. Osler, M. Pendleton, D. Roman, L. Schmied, W. Veatch, K.D. White, and C. Zuzak, 2022: Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States: Updated Mean Projections and Extreme Water Level Probabilities Along U.S. Coastlines. NOAA Technical Report NOS 01. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, Silver Spring, MD, 111 pp.
  17. Sweet, W. V., R. E. Kopp, C. P. Weaver, J. Obeysekera, R. M. Horton, E. R. Thieler, and C. Zervas. 2017. Global and regional sea level rise scenarios for the United States.