Study finds climate change boosts Tex storm flood risk

HOUSTON, June 1 Mon Jun 1, 2009 8:13am EDT

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HOUSTON, June 1 (Reuters) - Climate change over the next 20 to 70 years can be expected to increase hurricane flooding in Corpus Christi, Texas, home of three U.S. refineries, according to a study by Texas A&M University sponsored by the National Commission on Energy Policy released on Monday.

Corpus Christi, on the south Texas coast, already faces the risk of widespread flooding from the most powerful hurricanes, according to the study.

"Flooding and damage from major hurricanes will be more severe," said study author Jennifer Irish, assistant professor of coastal and ocean engineering at Texas A&M University, in a statement. "And the worse global warming gets, the more severe the consequences for the Texas coast."

The risk of flooding from less powerful storms will increase as rising sea levels reduce the protection from barrier islands and intensify the power of tropical cyclones, the study found.

The coastal land on which Corpus Christi sits is sinking due to geological forces and oil extraction. Mustang and Padre Islands, which provide barriers to Corpus Christi Bay, are eroding.

Sea levels at Corpus Christi are expected to rise about 2.6 feet by 2080, further reducing the protection of the barrier islands. Melting of the ice sheets around the world may increase the amount by which seas rise.

"Higher sea level means higher flood levels," according to the study.

Catastrophic storm surge as might be caused by the most powerful hurricanes in the 2030s could add $100 million to $250 million in structural damage at Corpus Christi.

By the 2080s, catastrophic storm surge could boost property damage between $265 million and more than $1 billion.

But property damage from less powerful storms would also increase by tens of millions of dollars, according to the study.

The National Commission on Energy Policy is a non-profit board of 20 members from industry and academia that makes bi-partisan proposals on energy policy. (Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by John Picinich)

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