Climate video series: How will coastal cities adapt to sea level rise?

October 24, 2017
By: Robert Sanders

Since we don’t yet know how fast and how high sea levels are going to rise because of climate change, our strategies must be ready and adaptive as conditions change, according to UC Berkeley urban designer Kristina Hill.

Rising seas pose multiple dangers, she says. Groundwater levels rise along with sea level, causing inland flooding. What can we do to prepare?

A fundamental principle of landscape architecture — “dig a hole, make a mound” — offers a time-tested strategy, Hill argues in a video of her recent talk for the Cal Future Forum. As groundwater levels rise, the “holes” — ponds and canal systems — can store excess water, she says. They can contain and redirect floods, helping us live with water, as the Dutch do.

The earth from the ponds can be used to build levees called superdikes, with an extra-wide wetland edge on the water side. Floating housing on the ponds would serve to protect from both flood and earthquake damage.

Hill, an associate professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at Berkeley, said that this strategy would solve both housing needs and environmental concerns, aligning interests that are often opposed while adapting to a changing climate.