As sea levels continue to rise thanks to climate change, everything from our coastal infrastructure to our internet service will be affected. One of the industries that will be hit the hardest is air travel.
As The New York Times reports, about 25 of the 100 busiest airports on Earth were built less than 32 feet above sea level. In cities such as Shanghai, Rome, Barcelona, Bangkok, and New York, airports are even more vulnerable, with runways sitting less than about 16 feet above sea level.
For decades, constructing airports on low, flat areas close to the water has made sense. These areas provide clear avenues for aircrafts to take off and land, and they can be close to the major hubs that airports serve while also being out of the way enough to reduce the potential for noise complaints.
But the benefits of the geography come with unintended consequences, as was demonstrated the first week of September when Typhoon Jebi submerged the tarmac at the Kansai International Airport in Japan, stranding roughly 3000 travelers. And a storm doesn't need to reach deadly levels of intensity to ground flights: St. Paul Downtown Airport in Minnesota has been overrun by the nearby Mississippi River so many times that it now has a portable flood wall it can erect in flash flood situations. More airports are also responding to the growing threat of flooding with protective walls, pumps, and drainage systems of their own.
Even if coastal airports are able to survive rising sea levels, global warming will still present them with new challenges. A hotter world means thinner air—which makes it difficult for planes to achieve lift-off. Turbulence is also projected to increase by 149 percent in the coming decades thanks to higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. One way airlines could combat the problem is by reducing their own carbon emissions, of which they contribute roughly 947 million tons a year.
[h/t The New York Times]