The outgoing director of the U.S. Geological Survey says Hurricane Sandy demonstrated that cities along America's eastern seaboard are now sitting ducks.
Marcia McNutt, who last week announced her resignation as director of
the US Geological Survey, told a conference that Sandy had left coastal
communities dangerously exposed to future storms of any size.
Sandy was a threshold for the north-east and we have already crossed
it," McNutt told the National Council for Science and the Environment
conference in Washington. "For the next storm, not even a super storm,
even a run-of-the-mill nor'easter, the amount of breaches and the amount
of coastal flooding will be widespread."
McNutt, a professor of
marine geophysics, was careful to preface her public remarks by saying
she spoke as a scientist and not an Obama Administration official. But
the unusually stark warning from a departing Obama official indicates
the challenges ahead in protecting American population centres from the
extreme storms of a changing climate.
"Before Sandy, someone asked me what my climate change
nightmare was. Before Sandy, I said it was that with the extra energy
in the atmosphere-ocean system it feeds super storms that intersect
mega-cities left rendered defenceless by rising seas," McNutt said in a
brief interview following her public remarks. "That is where we now
"We have left our coasts sitting ducks, and Sandy destroyed these natural protections," she said.
the space of a few hours, Sandy blew through the sand dunes that had
served as natural protections for communities up and down the Atlantic
"Basically these dunes build up over geologic time, and yet
the superstorm wore them down over a couple of days, and it is going to
take geologic time again to build them back up," McNutt said. "It is
possible with bulldozers and engineering and millions of dollars to do
with engineering what Mother Nature used to do for free."
McNutt conceded that this was a daunting prospect given existing fiscal
constraints. Republicans in the house have already balked at the $50bn
in immediate relief for Sandy that went to the house on Tuesday.