Covered by the Ocean

Covered by the Ocean:

A Speculative Look Into the Near Future


By Elton Camp



            The run-away acceleration in global warning and rapid rise of the sea level took everyone by surprise.  Even the most pessimistic environmentalists hadn’t predicted it. In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency forecast a rise in sea level of about three feet, but not until the end of the century.  The U.S. Geological Survey spoke of a more rapid change, but also believed it would occur gradually over several decades.  It came in a mere ten years. 


            Carlos glanced sadly at his white stucco home with the beautiful red tile roof as he placed the last of his family’s possessions into the rented moving truck.  Only twenty-three years previously, Punta Gorda on the Gulf coast of Florida had rated second in Money magazine’s list of the best places to live in the United States. 


            “I didn’t believe it would really happen,” he said to his wife. 


The couple gazed toward Charlotte Harbor with its beautiful, clear water.  When they had purchased the house, the water was barely visible in the distance.  Now it covered the cobblestone streets and gas streetlights of downtown and stood high on the house walls of the residential area below the slight elevation on which their residence stood. The older, tin-roofed homes with spacious verandas suffered the same fate as newer structures.  The stately old royal palms stood far above the salty water, but their yellowing leaves showed that they were doomed.          


The boast of the city fathers that the town had more churches than nightclubs did nothing to spare them.  The swamp buggy tours of Telegraph Cypress Swamp had been discontinued about two years ago in deference to the disaster of the rising Gulf waters.  Over half of the city’s inhabitants had already fled the inexorable approach of the sea. 


“I always believed in paying my debts,” Carlos murmured, “but this time the bank will just have to take the loss.  We can’t make mortgage payments on something that will be underwater for real.”  His wife managed a weak smile at his play on words from the decade-ago burst of the housing bubble and the dilemma faced by those who owned more on their houses than they were worth.  The two climbed into the truck and lumbered away to an inland location they hoped would be secure. 


Miami Beach and most of the Florida Keys are gone.  Most of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties are underwater.  Surviving roadways are elevated.  Millions are displaced and Florida continues to lose population.  The entire coastline is radically changed for all time. 


Along the North Carolina coast, the islands and sand bars of the Outer Banks are gone so that Pamlico Sound has merged with the open Atlantic Ocean.  Thousands of square miles of land have gone underwater and thousands more are frequently flooded.  Houses father and farther from the original shore come to stand in the surf to fall as so many other had done over the years. 


Robert Wilson looks apprehensively toward the coast.  Fifteen years previously he had moved his house in Nags Head to an inland location due to incursion by the surf that had eroded its footings and damaged its septic system to such an extent that county health officials had declared it a nuisance.  The waters that had then been two miles away were now on the second block over. 

“I can’t do it again,” he tells his family.  “I’m sorry, but we’ll be moving to Kansas where I grew up.  Kids, I’d wait until you finish high school if I could, but there won’t be time.  With no insurance on the house, we’ll take a terrible hit, but we can make a new start there with the help from Uncle Sam.” 

The government’s policy of “managed withdrawal” helped the Wilson family, along with countless others in similar circumstances.  Land acquisition, preventing new construction and migrating inward were the only hope.  The battle with the sea was lost. 

Despite being many miles from the coast, Washington DC is changed forever by the encroaching Atlantic Ocean.  Built on former swampland and bordering the Potomac River, changes in sea level extend all the way up the river to the capital.  The Jefferson Memorial is an island, the National Mall, and the Reflecting Pool are flooded, the Washington Monument is almost encircled.  Water completely surrounds the Internal Revenue Service, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Gallery of art.   Brackish waters reach the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. 

President Chelsea Clinton stands on the Truman Balcony of the White House and frowns as she looks out over the flooded city.  “Didn’t anybody see this coming?” she demands of her advisors.  “You mean to tell me there’s nothing that can be done?” 

“We could relocate the capital,” one of them replies lamely.  “Or maybe blame it on the failed policies of the Bush administrations.” 

New York City Mayor, Caroline Kennedy, remarks, “Well, you know, everybody, you know, kind of expected there could be trouble, you know.  We just didn’t, you know, think it would come so soon.” 

With much of the metropolitan area of the city never much above sea level, its rise has parts of lower Manhattan underwater.  The same is true of Coney Island, parts of Queens, and large portions of Staten Island.

The transportation system largely ceases to function since the rising ocean covers vital highways as well as many rail, tunnel, and subway entrance points. 

Wall Street on Manhattan Island had, ten years previously, been only about three feet above sea level.  Its flooding severely disrupts business worldwide.  Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn, Queens, parts of Long Island City, and Staten Island all are affected.  The World Trade Center memorial and surrounding buildings are flooded despite special foundations resistant to such danger. 

Neighborhoods at low elevation, such as Greenwich Village and Little Italy, have many buildings with masonry foundations that collapse as water erodes their foundations. 

            Providing housing for displaced millions proves impossible to manage.  Yet, because New York is an old, crowded city located on islands and along shorelines, the only possibility is to pull back from low-lying areas.  Global warming and rising sea levels extract a terrible price from the city. 


            The two largest factors in sea level, Greenland and Antarctica, responded to climate warming far more dramatically and quickly than anyone anticipated.  The horror that had been thought to be ninety years in the future is at hand. 


            In Anarctica, yet another huge section of ice breaks free and floats out into the open sea.  The average temperature of the world continues to rise.  An old Al Gore shakes his head ruefully.  “I tried to warn them, but they wouldn’t listen.” 

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A speculative look at the near future.