In essence, the engineering challenge of designing for rising seas and the associated risk of coastal flooding is rooted in instability.
Sea levels around the world have been relatively stable from a human perspective for about 5,000 years, over which time engineering has emerged and evolved as a distinct foundation of modern civilised society, along with its principles, guiding assumptions and design methodologies. This perception of the shoreline as being in a fixed, ‘stable’ environmental state, in which we have become deeply rooted culturally, psychologically and technically, is in distinct contrast to the largescale variations of sea level that have taken place over geological time. At the last high-water point, some 120,000 years ago, sea level reached more than 6m higher than its present value and on the long timeframe it has varied over a 120m vertical range depending on the degree to which landbased ice has covered the globe.
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