By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – For decades, engineers agreed that constructing airports on flat areas close to the water made sense, providing clear paths for aircrafts to take off and land. Now with the sea level rising, officials at airports, like San Francisco International, are scrambling to find solutions to keep ocean water away from runaways and terminals.
Now San Francisco International (SFO), in California’s Bay Area coastline, has announced it is taking steps to try to mitigate the consequences of sea level rise on its doorstep.
The city’s Shoreline Protection Program proposes the construction of a new shoreline protection wall around the entire perimeter of the airport, which would protect runways and terminals until at least the year 2085 from a sea level rise of up to 36 inches.
“This is something we’ve been looking at for many years,” Doug Yakel, a spokesman for the airport told local newspaper Mercury News. “What’s changed is the level of protection that is needed.”
The project is estimated to cost approximately $587 million, which will be paid off through higher fees on airlines that fly in and out of SFO, according to airport officials.
Built in 1927, SFO is one of the busiest airports in the United States. It was ranked in 2017 as the 7th largest in the U.S. in number of passengers (55,823,712) passing through its terminals and 15th in terms of air cargo volume transported, according to Airports Council International. The international airport serves as a hub for United Airlines, and it is one of Alaska Airlines’ primary bases of operations.
The airport occupies approximately 5,171 acres of land, and eight miles of shoreline along the San Francisco Bay.
In the 1980s the airport faced a series of renovations which raised banks and built small retention walls, which protected terminals and runways from rising sea waters. But the measures only provide protection up to three feet of sea level rise.
Scientists project sea level will rise in the San Francisco Bay area another foot by 2050 and another three feet or more by 2100.
The region already suffers with flooding, with reports of high tides and waves submerging the banks and going over the retention walls of the airport.
In 2011, a report released by the San Francisco Bay Conservation Development Commission showed that 72 percent of SFO would suffer if sea level increased by as little as 16 inches. Today, experts say the airport could see half of its runways underwater by the end of the decade.
Environmental organizations agree that the project would be one of the only viable solutions for SFO to combat the problem of sea level rise. Environmental studies are set to begin next year and construction at the airport expected to start in 2025.
“We have no objection to this. The airport can’t be easily moved,” David Lewis executive director of environmental organization, Save the Bay, was quoted as saying by the local media outlet. “But adapting to climate change is going to be expensive.”
“We can save ourselves a lot of money if we reduce the amount that we warm the planet, melt the ice caps, and raise the sea level.”