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Scientists: Boston may be in deep trouble

Northeastern coastal cities such as Boston and New York City could face serious flooding and rising sea levels by the end of the century because of global warming, according to a study released this week.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control has been predicting global sea level rise for years, but the study by Jianjun Yin, a University of Florida professor, is the first regional projection. Computer model simulations forecasted an additional eight inches of sea level rises for New York and Boston compared to the rest of the world.

‘The northeast coast of the US will face some of the largest sea level rises,’ Yin said. ‘This amount makes it one of the most vulnerable regions all over the world.’

Ronald Stouffer, a climate scientist who worked with Yin on the study, said sea levels would still rise even if carbon emissions were reduced. Stouffer said the Northeast must prepare for the predicted changes by moving houses inland, building higher seawalls and making other infrastructure changes.

‘There will be some climate change we will have to adapt to,’ Stouffer, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said. ‘Actions taken today can reduce the amount of climate change in the far future.’

Though scientists said global climate change and rising sea levels are generally accepted projections, not all agreed on what action should be taken in light of Yin’s study.

Save the Harbor/Save the Bay spokesman Bruce Berman said if the study was correct, the harbor would be in ‘serious’ trouble. Berman said the additional 8 inches in sea levels predicted for Boston could bring tides around 16 feet by 2100.

‘That would put parking lots and basements and buildings underwater,’ Berman said. ‘Does that mean we have to abandon North End and move to Brighton? I don’t think so.’

Berman, a Boston University marine policy professor, said carbon emissions must be reduced, and rising sea levels must be taken into account when planning infrastructure projects.

Peter Stone, a professor of climate dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he is skeptical of the study’s findings.

‘Certainly, I’m not saying sea levels won’t rise,’ Stone said. ‘How much they will rise is very uncertain.’

Carl Wunsch, a physical oceanographer at MIT, also said the models are unreliable, and though the chances of sea levels rising globally are 100 percent, the chances of additional rises projected for the Northeast are less.

‘The best way to look at these things are as descriptions of things that could happen, and worry about what you should do just in case,’ Wunsch said.

Wunsch compared preparing for rising sea levels to fire insurance on a house; precautions could include moving away from low-lying areas, protecting wetlands and building dykes. Rising sea levels could spread salt to ground water, which is used for drinking water in places like Cape Cod. Population growth in such areas may be discouraged, he said.

Regardless of whether the study’s predictions are realistic, people need to consume less, Michaela Hanyes, president of the BU Environmental Student Organization, said.

‘It’s not what people want to hear right now,’ Haynes, a College of Arts and Sciences senior, said. ‘When it comes down to it, that’s the only option.’

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