Tuesday, January 14, 2014

America's Increasingly Soggy East Coast

From Maine to south Florida, America's eastern seaboard is heavily populated and has been for generations.  Unfortunately, many of its residents are in a losing battle with nature.  The New York Times warns that the 21st will be a century of retreat, even if New Jersey's governor would rather ignore it.

Scientists have spent decades examining all the factors that can influence the rise of the seas, and their research is finally leading to answers. And the more the scientists learn, the more they perceive an enormous risk for the United States.

Much of the population and economy of the country is concentrated on the East Coast, which the accumulating scientific evidence suggests will be a global hot spot for a rising sea level over the coming century.
...The work starts with the tides. Because of their importance to navigation, they have been measured for the better part of two centuries. While the record is not perfect, scientists say it leaves no doubt that the world’s oceans are rising. The best calculation suggests that from 1880 to 2009, the global average sea level rose a little over eight inches.
The evidence suggests that the sea-level rise has probably accelerated, to about a foot a century, and scientists think it will accelerate still more with the continued emission of large amounts of greenhouse gases into the air. The gases heat the planet and cause land ice to melt into the sea.

The official stance of the world’s climate scientists is that the global sea level could rise as much as three feet by the end of this century, if emissions continue at a rapid pace. But some scientific evidence supports even higher numbers, five feet and beyond in the worst case.
Scientists say the East Coast will be hit harder for many reasons, but among the most important is that even as the seawater rises, the land in this part of the world is sinking...
Whole island communities that contained hundreds of residents in the 19th century have already disappeared. Holland Island, where the population peaked at nearly 400 people around 1910, had stores, a school, a baseball team and scores of homes. But as the water rose and the island eroded, the community had to be abandoned.
Aside from this general sinking of land up and down the East Coast, some places sit on soft sediments that tend to compress over time, so the localized land subsidence can be even worse than the regional trend. Much of the New Jersey coast is like that. The sea-level record from the Battery has been particularly valuable in sorting out this factor, because the tide gauge there is attached to bedrock and the record is thus immune to sediment compression.
Chris Christie's Folly
Up and down the Eastern Seaboard, municipal planners want to know: How bad are things going to get, and how fast?
One of the most ambitious attempts to take account of all known factors came just a few weeks ago from Kenneth G. Miller and Robert E. Kopp of Rutgers University, and a handful of their colleagues. Their calculations, centered on New Jersey, suggest this is not just some problem of the distant future.
People considering whether to buy or rebuild at the storm-damaged Jersey Shore, for instance, could be looking at nearly a foot of sea-level rise by the time they would pay off a 30-year mortgage, according to the Rutgers projections. That would make coastal flooding and further property damage considerably more likely than in the past.
Even if the global sea level rises only eight more inches by 2050, a moderate forecast, the Rutgers group foresees relative increases of 14 inches at bedrock locations like the Battery, and 15 inches along the New Jersey coastal plain, where the sediments are compressing. By 2100, they calculate, a global ocean rise of 28 inches would produce increases of 36 inches at the Battery and 39 inches on the coastal plain.
These numbers are profoundly threatening, and among the American public, the impulse toward denial is still strong. But in towns like Norfolk — where neighborhoods are already flooding repeatedly even in the absence of storms, and where some homes have become unsaleable — people are starting to pay attention.
In the last couple or three years, there’s really been a change,” said William A. Stiles Jr., head of Wetlands Watch, a Norfolk environmental group. “What you get now is people saying, ‘I’m tired of driving through salt water on my way to work, and I need some solutions.’ ”
The New Jersey governor isn't interested in hearing any of this.   Chris Christie is committed to restoring, rebuilding and repopulating the Jersey Shore so utterly devastated by Hurricane Sandy last year.   Christie maintains that, if it happens again, they'll simply restore the beaches and rebuild the homes, businesses and infrastructure again.  To him, climate change is what neo-classical economists term an "externality."  It's not part of the calculus, it doesn't compute.  He knows that he's not planning to be governor when the next storm that wipes out the Jersey Shore hits.
To Drylanders, a few inches of water here or there might not seem like much.  Freshwater lakes in the U.S. southwest are dropping by metres.  Coastal conditions, however,  are vastly different.   A few inches of water compounds high tides and storm surges that can build up from hundreds of miles distant.  Just last week, Britain's south coast was hammered by waves peaking at more than 20-feet. 
Even my little town has a neighbourhood of upscale homes, built in the 70s and 80s, that are already vulnerable to seasonal, saltwater inundation.   Those houses were built on low-lying land at the junction of a river and the sea.  Can they be defended from high tides, storm surge and sea level rise that attack them from both the sea and the riverbank?  Probably not.

Meanwhile, read how Congress is poised to cave on U.S. government flood insurance reform which would have raised premiums on properties exposed to repeated flooding.  Phones ring off hook; homeowners angry; Congressmen grow fearful; reform bad; flood insurance welfare good - especially for those Tea Party types. 
 UPDATE - here on the wet coast, it's been anything but wet this winter.  Yesterday it was as balmy as Spring.   Today we're blanketed by really thick sea fog.  Climate change?  Nah, that's a hoax.


Owen Gray said...

Self imposed blindness is the source of tragedy, Mound. Ask Oedipus.

The Mound of Sound said...

I would, Owen, but I lost his number. Seriously, old timer, ten years ago would you have imagined you would have lived to see what's happening today? I thought I'd be long gone before these impacts were felt.

Anonymous said...

Not only is the East Coast of the USA at risk what
about Holland ,Venice ,BangLadesh or even Richmond
and parts of Delta and Surrey.
There are many areas that will be affected.

The Mound of Sound said...

I guess what distinguishes the US eastern seaboard is how much denialism still pervades the state legislatures there. North Carolina has even passed laws forbidding certain reference to sea level rise rates triggered by climate change.

I have written previously about the predicament faced by the Lower Mainland. Richmond is especially vulnerable. They're looking at earlier spring melt increasing Fraser River levels, general land subsidence, plus sea level rise and storm surge issues.

Venice is going to try to hold back the sea somewhat. The Dutch have decided to face reality and give some polder back to the sea. Other countries are just trying to hold on.

e.a.f. said...

it simply boggles the mind when people want to deny whatever that is happening, is happening. Call it what you want, but things are changing. The weather that is, is changing. The climate is changing. It isn't the first time in the earth's history it has happened. its just the first time its happened when there are this many people on the earth, depleting the earth's resources and changing the earth's water, soil, and air with pollution.

Even if people don't want to acknowledge that the changes aren't human made, they will hve to read a few history books. The climate has changed over millions of years. A mega volcano can change the climate, by simply not having enough sun light come to the earth.

given the huge population the earth now has, people have to conserve what we have and make plans for the future. We can not deny sea levels are rising. We can't waste drinking water, because at some point parts of the earth will run out.

Chris Christie may think he can rebuild each time there is a hurricane like Sandy, but at some point, the government and the people will run out of money. It makes more sense to leave these areas as seasonal parks and let nature take it back. have people move, as upsetting as it will be, its do it now or do it later, but it will happen.