Will Cape Cod Be Underwater in 50 years?- Climate Change Impact on Cape Cod

climate change impact on cape cod

According to glaciologists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report, the climate change impact on Cape Cod could find the Cape and Islands submerged in 50 years.

big rocks blue ocean waves impact cape cod island

Cape Cod has experienced 11 inches of sea rise since 1922. Going by the Cape Cod scientist’s findings, the estimated rise of between 6-8 inches will threaten Cape Cod’s existence. This may see the extinction of this beautiful place by the sea in a period of 50 years.

Thermal expansion has seen the sea rise by 1 ½ inch per degree Celsius, increasing sea levels by nearly 186 feet, leaving most of the Cape underwater with a few islands at over 300 feet.

It is paramount to mitigate the causes of climate change in Cape Cod, adapt to its effects, and plan with sound decisions on both environmental and economic aspects.

This article will cover the climate change impact on Cape Cod and the sustainable measures to mitigate the changes.

What is the climate change impact on Cape Cod?

Climate change has dramatically increased the vulnerability of Cape Cod to climate hazards leading to more storm surges, increased sea-level rise, flooding, surging and damaging winds, high temperatures during the summer, and increased wildfires.

aerial view water rising climate change cape cod island

Climate change on Cape Cod is endangering populations with the loss of life, damage to buildings, infrastructure, impaired ecosystems, and coastal environments, thus affecting the community’s social-economic well-being.

The rise in sea level has increased flooding instances in Cape Cod, causing damage to coastal property and infrastructure.

Warming ocean temperatures alter fisheries encouraging algal blooms, which are pretty harmful.
To add to this, the burning of fossil fuels that many greatly depend on at the Cape continues to emit pollutants with adverse effects on public health and human life.

forest burning cape cod island

As the sea level rises, it reduces the width of the beach, lowering the value that beachgoers place on their experience. This will lead to a cumulative loss of billions of dollars. By 2050, the annual lost value will be approximately $113 million. This value will be a significant loss in tourism-related revenue.

Cranberries are a native fruit to Cape Cod that faces extinction due to high levels of sea rise.

Salty water from the sea level rise is impacting cranberry bogs.

man harvesting cranberries cape cod island

This is an economic threat since cranberries are one of the fruits sustaining industries and livelihoods in Cape Cod.

Why is Cape Cod Vulnerable to Erosion?

Due to the worn cliff sides and shores caused by heavy rainfall and strong coastal winds, Cape Cod is vulnerable to erosion.

aerial view beach line white sand cape cod island

The waterfront sea level undergoes a continual process of reshaping where sediments are washed away and built anew.

However, climate change has accelerated the process in recent years and washed away the protective shield, leaving the Cape vulnerable to erosion.

In this segment of the article, we highlight some of the major occurrences that have made the Cape vulnerable to erosion.

1. Sea Level Rises Leading to Coastal Erosion

The rise in sea levels causes a decline in the coastal shoreline and is one of the most significant contributors to coastal erosion.

decline coastal shoreline erosion cape cod island

For every centimeter of sea-level rise, there is a corresponding one-meter erosion due to the ability of the waves to move farther upland.

2. Climate Change

Climate change is the primary cause of increased precipitation, leading to an increase in Hortonian Overland Flow (HOF).

water increasing beachline cape cod island

The increase in HOF promotes coastal erosion at a very high rate and accelerates its magnitude.

3. Anthropogenic Changes

people walking uphill taking bags cape cod islandThese include changes like an increase in population that sires the need for more development, causing instability to the plant vegetation.

This decrease in total land vegetation can be caused by footfall or even automobile traffic.

It can also be caused by a decrease in the natural land vegetation and an increase in invasive species.

This decrease in natural land vegetation highly promotes coastal erosion.

What are Sustainable Solutions Being Taken?

Explained below are some of the strategies to make Cape Cod a sustainable place.

Creating a Living Shoreline

shoreline cape cod island

This has been achieved by adding natural materials to form a barrier that grows over time, focused on shielding the diminishing beach width from the waves. Plus, man-made dunes are created to sustain the rapid erosion.

This is aimed at preserving a longer coastline for beach-goers to enjoy.

Marsh Restorations and Retreat to Curb Sea Level Rise

people planning middle grass cape cod island

By modifying existing natural systems, it is aimed to mitigate local hazards. These systems include infrastructure.

On the other hand, the retreat focuses on removing built structures and facilities from the advancing tides.

Beach Nourishment to Prevent Erosion

adding sand prevent erosion beachline cape cod island

This aims to directly add sediment to the parts along the coastline that once existed.

This is to help regrow the sediments to help curb wave strengths and winds from the sea.

Renewable Energy to Combat Global Warming

Fossil fuel has been the primary source of energy in the Cape.

This is not safe since it is the lead in emissions fuel global warming. Cape Cod is working towards being a place that embraces and uses environmentally friendly renewable energy.

Creation of Dunes to Curb Wave Surges

dunes cape cod island

Creating sand fences along the beach will help trap blowing and drifting sand at their location, thus causing the formation of strong dunes along the shores.

This will be a great way to promote dune formation while maintaining a neutral impact on wildlife.


This includes doing nothing solid to curb the dangerous advances of the ocean to the land, the population, and even sea life.

It is more of “let us wait for whatever happens to happen.”

This step is taken on areas that are way beyond repair.

The Summary is…

In conclusion, it is evident that if serious action is not taken on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, there are greater chances of it being swallowed by the sea in the next 50 years.

Geologists point out that the sea level is rising much more quickly than it has been over the past two thousand years.

A lot has to be done, lots of money invested in protecting this gem from diminishing.




Please feel free to share your favorite Cape Cod experience about this topic with our audience!

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Betsy Thompson

    How concerned should I be about an impending move to the Thirwood facility in South Yarmouth?

  2. Lydia Conca

    I have been here since 1952. I feel we all have a responsibility to climate change. But guess who is also responsible? The selfish town governments that allow all these new high rises to be built. I am usually a calm person, but many of us old timers know this is a huge problem on the Cape. We used to have a clean Cape Cod. Answer ?? Stop building. Talk about erosion? Let people rent or buy when the opportunity comes up. The money hungry towns and counties are doing this. Why should the people care. The natives probably don’t care anymore, yet you lecture to us. I will be gone before Cape Cod . Please address all this to the selfish people behind all this. As my wonder grandparents would say who moved to Welfleet in 1945 would say. You people are blind. Feel free to contact me so an old timer might have a chance to give you simple, to do, answers.

  3. jo helps

    50 years? Not a chance.

  4. Dorelia

    Really nice and interesting post. I was looking for this kind of information and enjoyed reading this one.

  5. Dr Green

    I love Cape Cod and sad to see this place not maintained as the treasure it is. We can save this place, we have to.

Leave a Review or Comment

Free Event Listings for a month

Related Stories