The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

These photos of the District underwater illustrate our future with sea-level rise

Fly-fishing on the Mall on June 5. (Loic Pritchett)
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A flooded Potomac River and high tide came together on Tuesday and flooded the low-lying areas of the District, Alexandria and Arlington. In the District, this meant a couple of feet of water around the perimeter of the Tidal Basin and ankle-deep flooding at the Georgetown waterfront, Navy Yard and the Wharf.

In these photos, which Loic Pritchett emailed this morning, the flooding looks almost playful. Someone even enjoyed fly-fishing on the sidewalks around the Tidal Basin.

Of course, it’s not really fun when you think about the gradual wear and tear this flooding has on infrastructure. And it’s only going to get worse as sea level rises because of climate change. These photos are essentially a preview of what’s to come. Alexandria, Arlington and the District are on the front lines for this, because sea level is rising faster here than anywhere else on the East Coast.

U.S. coastal areas flooded more than ever in past year due to sea-level rise and storms

The oceans are getting higher overall because of melting ice on land, such as glaciers and the Antarctic, and the thermal expansion of water — it gets less dense and expands as it warms up.

On top of that, the ground is literally sinking beneath our feet.

Scientists recently confirmed that the land in the Washington region is sinking as a result of the most recent ice age. At that time, thick ice covered much of North America. At its peak, the ice got as far south as the Ohio Valley and New York City. Fun fact: The giant glacier carved through the land and created what we now know as the Great Lakes.

The glacier was very heavy, of course. As the ice accumulated, the ground sank beneath its weight. Around the perimeter of the glacier, the land rose. It’s a lot like sitting on a water bed. The bed sinks below you and rises around you. In essence, North America was a very large, very dense water bed that a huge glacier sat down on.

When the last ice age ended, the ground started to readjust — and it’s still doing so. In the Mid-Atlantic, right on the edge of where the glacier was, this means the ground is sinking and exacerbating climate-change-related sea-level rise.

This is all to say that flooding days such as Tuesday are becoming more common with time. Eventually, what you see in these photos will be the norm.

Federal report: High-tide flooding could happen ‘every other day’ by late this century