Rising seas will force Irish householders to retreat inland

Thousands of householders will have to abandon coastal communities as sea levels rise, with Irish scientists now working on a “managed retreat” rather than a chaotic stream of climate refugees fleeing inland.

The coastal road in Summercove, Kinsale, collapses due to crashing waves during a winter storm in 2014. Picture: Denis Minihane

Scientists based at MaRei (Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy) are trying to develop solutions to lessen the effects of climate change which could seriously impact on the economy, agriculture, and infrastructure.

These include the potential loss of staple crops like potatoes, the disappearance of important coastal highways, melting tar on roads, and buckled railway tracks, as summer heatwaves rival southern Spain.

They also predict that, in the autumn and winter, the country will be deluged, which will present problems for our capabilities of storing excess water when it is really needed.

The rapid shrink of the Arctic ice sheet — which Inuit tribes have personally detailed to another Cork-based scientist — plus the predicted fallout of ferocious coastal storms and ‘monster rain’ battering the country even during the summer — has worried scientists so much University College Cork is planning a dedicated ‘Climate Laboratory’.

Scientists at the Environmental Research Institute, UCC, plan to work with a team of expert economists, accountants, engineers, and sociologists to help protect and educate us on the worst affects of global warming.

ERI manager Paul Bolger said he hopes to have the “multi-disciplinary group in place later this year”.

Robert Devoy, a senior technical advisor in MaERI, said within the next 100 years, some communities will have had to move inland as sea levels rise by about 1m and more ferocious storms batter the coast.

Prof Devoy said interim measures could be put in place “which would buy time” but not ultimately protect some coastal communities.

These measures might include lower cost options of tying huge banks of old tyres anchored into the seabed, or building more expensive concrete defences. But both will be difficult to maintain and will not prevent coastal change.

He said a barrage, similar to one in London’s Thames, could be an option to protect Cork — possibly at Roches’ Point or nearer the city at Tivoli — but would cost close to €1bn to construct.

However, when it comes to saving already vulnerable coastal communities, many Irish scientists say in some cases, they cannot turn back the rising tide.

Prof Devoy, who worked on developing the Thames barrage, said that as far back as the 18th century, scientists were proffering views on global warming, but since then the chickens had come home to roost. The scientist said he recognised coastal communities have strong links to previous generations, but they may have to let go in order to survive, and accept they will have to at some stage move from their present coastal positions.

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