The Bangladesh delta: rising sea levels are changing the salinity of its water

There’s an interesting photo essay on the rapidly disappearing town of Shishmaref on the ABC News Web site. The coastal Alaskan village has about 600 residents and is believed to have been inhabited (on and off) for 4,000 years. Today, with water rising about 10 feet a year,* it’s in danger of sinking. The population of Shishmaref may soon count themselves among the first wave of global-warming refugees.

As the effects of climate change worsen, there will be more Shishmarefs. Already there are places similarly adjusting—not just to a single awful hurricane or several bad droughts, but to a new pattern. Munshiganj, Bangladesh, is one such place. In the midst of a delta surrounded by rising seawater, the farmers in the Munshiganj district are seeing their livelihood die before them. Saltwater seeps into the groundwater, drinking water is growing scarce, rice paddies are dying out, and shrimp farming has become the new major industry. Der Spiegel has a striking slideshow.

While most of us haven’t voluntarily changed our lifestyle, the residents of these areas have been forcibly made to do so. It seems only a matter of time before this becomes the rule rather than the exception.—Abby Seiff

*As many have noted below, this was poor word choice on my part. Water rises up Shishmaref’s coast at a rate of about 10 feet a year. This is due to a variety of factors including melting sea ice and permafrost—both of which have weakened the coastline. The sea level does not rise at that rate.—A.S.