Accelerating sea level rise, coastal erosion and subsiding land is putting the agglomeration around Houston at risk of regular flooding in the next few decades. The state of Texas recognizes the danger faced by Houston and is planning to invest US $12 billion in preventive measures. takes a closer look.

The combination of high tides and sea level rise is already increasing flood risk in the city of Houston. Between 2005 and 2017, homes in the Texas Gulf Coast lost more than US $76 million in value due to tidal floods alone, not including hurricane risk. A historic flood hit the city in September of 2019, and rescue forces were called upon to perform over a thousand water rescues. 

Slightly higher sea levels can make a big difference in extreme storm surge occurrence. A 1-in-100 year flooding event (whose intensity has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year) could become a 1-in-10 year flood by 2050. This is made worse by land subsidence due to excessive groundwater extraction, a widespread problem in Texas. After Hurricane Harvey incurred US $127 billion in damages in Houston, state officials decided to invest over US $12 billion in sea level rise solutions, including storm surge protection, drainage and erosion control. 

While the right measures are being taken in Texas, other states and countries may not have the means to mount an adequate response. Earth.Org has mapped what flooding would look like around Houston by 2100 if not action were taken.

sea level rise by 2100 houston

Sea level rise projections by 2100 for two scenarios with the amount of rise in meters indicated (mild = 2m; extreme = 5m). Population displacement indicated bottom right.

Sea level rise mapping methodology

Global mean sea level is projected to rise by 2m at the end of this century. However, in order to determine local sea level rise (SLR), one has to take into account local coastal flood levels which could be 2.8m above Mean Higher-High Water (MHHW) at extreme forecasts. These local levels bring variability to the projected SLR from 1m to 6.5m (eg. Rio vs Kolkata).

The SLR scenarios used in this study are based on the forecasts from Climate Central – Coastal Risk Screening Tool  with the following parameters:

Sea level Projection Source:

From two highly cited journals by Kopp et al., estimating SLR mainly due to ocean thermal expansion and ice melt. The mid-range scenario projected 0.5-1.2m of SLR based on different representative concentration pathways (RCP) defined by the IPCC. While the pessimistic scenario added more mechanisms of ice-sheet melting, estimating SLR at 1m-2.5m in 2100, with a projection of 10m SLR at 2300.

Coastal Flooding

More frequent coastal flooding is a direct impact of sea-level rise. Based on the Global tides and surge reanalysis by Muis et al., (2016), it is estimated that the extreme coastal water level could be from 0.2 – 2.8m over the mean level. While in extreme cases like China and the Netherlands it could experience 5-10m of extreme sea levels. Here, the coastal local flood level is added on top of the projected SLR.

Pollution Scenario:

Allows choosing the RCP, the greenhouse gas concentration trajectory defined by the IPCC.  The mild level is based on RCP4.5, of 2°C temperature rise; while the Extreme level is based on RCP 8.5, of 4°C temperature rise.


Applies to the baseline SLR, defined in the “Sea level projection” section, upon which we add flooding. “Mild” refers to the mid-range scenario of 0.5-1.2m, and “extreme” to the pessimistic scenario of 1-2.5m. We used the high-end value of each scenario (mild = 1m; extreme = 2.5m).

Mapping by Braundt Lau. Article written by Owen Mulhern. 

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