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Abbas El-Zein on Coastal Life and Rising Seas

SEI researcher Professor Abbas El-Zein has published a chapter, “Fraying at the Edges: On Coastal Life and rising Seas”, in the new book Sustainable Coastal Design and Planning, edited by Elizabeth Mossop.

Image by Sasha Styles via Unsplash

In his newly published chapter, “Fraying at the Edges: On Coastal Life and rising Seas”, Abbas El-Zein, a writer and Professor of Environmental Engineering, explores the impending impacts of sea level rise on low-lying coastal areas, infrastructure and the ubiquitous sea-side culture that most Australians enjoy.

El-Zein cites a CSRIO study which predicts that a rise in sea level of ninety centimetres would mean a 10,000-fold increase in the frequency of storm surges and flooding events at some locations along the eastern coast of Australia, which means that by the year 2100, an event that takes place once in a century today would occur once every few days.

A huge 85% of Australia’s population lives within fifty kilometres of the coast, so as the frequency and severity of storms and wave damage increases, the question of how we will be able to re-design our coastlines, and our culture, to accommodate such dramatic changes is becoming a more and more urgent issue.

“The problems created by sea level rise are undoubtedly “wicked,” as system scientists might say, that is, they are complex, dogged with uncertainty and unpredictability, subject to fundamental disagreements about their nature and causes, involving competing and often irreconcilable interests, and are without obviously optimal solutions.” — Abbas El-Zein

These statistics are sobering, and El-Zein notes that we should be all the more concerned given the political influence of certain climate change deniers — notably and perhaps most outrageously, the U.S President. The challenge now is to face these rising tides head on by taking the risks seriously and acting without hesitation to mobilise action at national and international levels.

Abbas El Zein is co-lead of the Sydney Environment Institute’s new research project investigating offshore petroleum drilling in the Great Australian Bight


Abbas El-Zein has been chief investigator on several Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery grants and has published widely on soil hydrology, groundwater contamination, carbon cycle in soils and vulnerability to climate change. Abbas teaches undergraduate and postgraduate subjects in geoenvironmental engineering and sustainable systems. He advises the Environmental Defenders Office and contributes regularly to print and audio-visual media. His memoir, Leave to Remain, was published in 2010 and won a New South Wales Premier literary award. His latest book, The Secret Maker of the World, is a collection of short stories published by the University of Queensland Press.