Tag Archives: climate change

The State(s) of Sea Level Rise Science

Peaks Island, Maine

Peaks Island, Maine

In early April, I read an issue of a Peaks Island, Maine newspaper. On the front page, a story’s headline caught my eye:  “Sea level rise not caused by climate change, scientists confirm.” At first I assumed it was an April Fool’s joke, but the date was not April 1st. Then I got upset. I read. It seems that the journalist had (mis)interpreted a report on sea levels in Casco Bay that affirmed the sea level has risen for much longer than most people have known about global climate change. In fact, the State of Maine has over 100 years worth of sea level rise data because the City of Portland has tracked sea level in Portland harbor since 1901. That’s valuable data. The University of Southern Maine has conducted a series of studies on sea level rise, sustainability and the economics involved with planning for adaptation. According to the Environmental Finance Center at the Muskie School (USM), “at least 100 coastal New England towns will be impacted by sea level rise and increased storm surge from climate change.” Read about their COAST and Climate Ready Estuary projects here.

The State of Maine published its climate change action plan in 2004. It identified sea level rise adaptation planning as a necessity. In particular, the Maine Geological Survey conducted several pilot projects that assessed coastal wetland migration. The state’s coastal zoning laws and management practices changed several years ago to reflect sea level rise. Read the 2010 report, “People and Nature: Adapting to a Changing Climate, Charting Maine’s Course.” A great list of collaborators contributed to the development of “People and Nature,” including Natural Resources Council of Maine, several state agencies, several cities and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. It’s hard to find on the state’s website because the State Planning Office’s website was moved and merged with those of other departments.

Meanwhile, adaptation planning has moved to the forefront of climate change science in recent years. Sea level rise scientists at NASA, USGS and other agencies engaged in an online chat session about the state of the science for sea level rise and adaptation planning in early April 2013. (You can listen to the discussion after-the-fact.) What I found interesting is that salt marsh ecology and wetlands play such a vital role in our understanding of sea level rise and its implications for coastal systems. Over the past 6 years, I’ve done some research on sea level rise and learned of sea level rise tools and adaptation planning efforts underway all over the country. A hotspot for sea level rise research is the East coast of the United States, where sea level rise is occurring at a faster rate between Cape Cod and the coast of North Carolina—faster than anywhere else in the world.

Leah Stetson photo

Leah Stetson photo

Several other states have begun to plan for sea level rise. Click on the links below to learn more about what states are doing about sea level rise and adapting natural resource management strategies for climate change. In most cases, it’s a collaborative effort.

MA: Mass Fish & Game Adaptation Planning       MA sea level rise planning maps
MA: Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee
NY: New York Sea Level Rise Planning        NY Sea Level Rise Task Force Report 2010
CT: Connecticut Climate Change Adaptation Reports
RI: Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council Sea Level Rise Planning
NJ: New Jersey Coastal Management Program Sea Level Rise Planning
NJ: Sea Level Rise in New Jersey, New Jersey Geological Survey Report, 1998
NJ, DE, PA, NY: Delaware River Basin Commission Climate Change Hydrology Report, 2013
DE: Delaware Sea Level Rise Planning & Adaptation
MD: Living Shorelines Program (Chesapeake Bay Trust)
MD: A Sea Level Response Strategy for Maryland (2000)
VA: Planning for Sea Level Rise, Virginia Institute for Marine Science
VA Sea Level Rise Maps
VA: Sea Level Rise Planning at Local Government Level in Virginia
VA: Government Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise
GA: University of Georgia, Sea Grant – Sea Level Rise Planning & Research
FL: Florida’s Resilient Coasts: State Policy Framework for Adaptation (PDF)
FL: Multidisciplinary Review of Current Sea Level Rise Research in Florida  (University of Florida)
MS & AL: Mississippi and Alabama Sea Grant Consortium – Resilience in Coastal Communities
Gulf of Mexico States: Climate Community of Practice: Sea Level Rise Planning
LA: Coastal Protection & Restoration – Recommendations for Sea Level Rise Planning (Includes Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan)
CA: California’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Water Resources (2012)
CA: State Resources on Sea Level Rise and Adaptation Planning
CA: Adapting to Sea Level Rise Report (2012)
CA, OR, WA: Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon and Washington (2012)
OR: A Strategy for Adapting to Impacts of Climate Change on the Oregon Coast (2009)
OR: LiDAR Sea Level Rise Research (NOAA Digital Services)
WA: Addressing Sea Level Rise in Shoreline Master Programs (Guidance) (2007)
WA: Sea Level Rise Assessment: Impacts of Climate Change on the Coast (2007)
AK: Alaska’s Melting Permafrost and Melting Sea Ice (national research)
AK: Climate change impacts in Alaska (EPA)
NC: North Carolina Coastal Federation – Sea Level Rise

A note about North Carolina: Several state agencies, including the Departments of Environment & Natural Resources, Transportation and Commerce, all identified threats and risks from sea level rise in 2010. At the time, the state’s Governor signed a letter confirming this. Two years later, North Carolina’s State Senate passed a law that banned sea level rise adaptation planning based on the current science. The House of Representatives rejected the bill, but a compromised version of the bill called for a new study on sea level rise for North Carolina and a ban on exponential sea level rise predictions in modeling. Read this Scientific American article on NC and sea level rise, and the 2012 USGS study that found increasing sea level rise impacts on the coast between Cape Cod and the Carolinas. See “More unwanted national attention for North Carolina on sea level rise” (2013).

If you’re interested in a good summary of sea level rise policy in states, see this 2012 legislative report by Kristin Miller, et. al. (Connecticut General Assembly). It includes an analysis of sea level rise related policy in ten states (Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia.)

Update: Check out Nickolay Lamm’s Sea Level Rise Images Depict What U.S. Cities Could Look Like In Future (PHOTOS) – click here. 

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Climate Change Takes a Toll on the American Red Cross with Extreme Weather-Related Disasters

In November 2011, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that confirmed a link between extreme weather-related disasters like hurricanes, floods, tsunamis and other storms, to climate change. This was the first time that the IPCC emphasized this link in an official report based on the consensus of over 200 scientists. One of the lead authors of the report is also a director at theRed Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre.  The Red Cross confirmed that the findings of the IPCC reflect what the Red Cross has observed:

‘The Red Cross warned that disaster agencies were already dealing with the effects of climate change in vulnerable countries across the world. “The findings of this report certainly tally with what the Red Cross Movement is seeing, which is a rise in the number of weather-related emergencies around the world,” said Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red  Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre and coordinating lead author of the IPCC report. “We are  committed to responding to disasters whenever and wherever they happen, but we have to  recognize that if the number of disasters continues to increase, the current model we have for responding to them is simply impossible to sustain.”’ – from The Guardian, Nov. 17, 2011http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/17/ipcc-climate-change-extreme-weather

The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre published a related report for policy-makers in light of this new information about extreme weather-related disasters and preparing for climate change. For the Summary for Policy Makers of the new Special Report on Extremes (Nov. 2011), visit: http://www.climatecentre.org/site/news/329/summary-for-policy-makers-of-the-new-special-report-on-extremes-srex

For Strange Wetlands, I sought the first-hand perspective of Allen Crabtree, a volunteer for the Public Affairs division of the American Red Cross. Mr. Crabtree has volunteered with the Red Cross since Katrina. He has identified many human interest stories and interviewed those affected by floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme-weather disasters. In the past year, the Red Cross deployed Mr. Crabtree to cover the stories of Hurricane Irene and related flooding events in Vermont and the Mississippi River floods, and the tornadoes in South Carolina.

Mr. Crabtree arrives on the scene immediately after a hurricane, tornado, flood or forest fire has hit. Often he is deployed “pre-landfall,” before a hurricane has come ashore. It’s his job to get the word out to people –let them know where the Red Cross shelters and other services are located, to help prepare people for a disaster and to contact the media. He’s been known to set his laptop up and report via Skype with a hurricane raging around him. The Red Cross makes use of social media, too, to spread the news—over Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. However, social media can be a way for rumors to spread, for example, when the Mississippi River floods occurred, there was a false rumor posted on Twitter about the Red Cross offering a particular service; but these social media outlets are closely monitored, and rumors are quickly squashed.

Extreme weather-related disasters are expensive and the Red Cross uses footage of the storms, the damage and the people in shelters, to raise funds for their efforts. But Mr. Crabtree’s first love—writing stories—is what drives him to reach out to people. Thinking back on the Mississippi River floods, Mr. Crabtree said, “The sad thing about floods is that they are a slow-moving disaster. When do you evacuate? Afterwards, it makes a slow retreat as the water levels return to normal.” Unlike a tornado with its fast path of destruction, a flood, or even a hurricane, can continue to damage communities and wreak havoc long after the onset of the storm. Mr. Crabtree has written about some of the “success stories” among the Red Cross shelters during the Mississippi River floods and other storms this year, stories, he says, about “people picking themselves up in the face of a lot of impediments. They are a shining example of the resilience of people.” Read Allen Crabtree’s stories here on the Red Cross website via the links below the photo.

Red Cross Reaches Out to Aid Vermont Flood Family (Vermont flood, September 2011)

Red Cross Shelters Residents of Transvale Acres in Flooded Conway, NH (2011)

“What do I do after the flood?” (North Dakota, 2011)

Red Cross is here for the Long Haul(Mississippi River floods, 2011)

Disaster Can Change Someone’s Life in Seconds (North Carolina tornado, 2011)

Video, News Channel 8: Interview with Allen Crabtree on the Joplin tornado (June 2011)

Strong Waters, Stronger Friendships(Missouri floods, 2008)

Rare Weasels of Winter

As a child I was wary of weasels. My grandparents taught me to listen for the distinctive murderous cry of a fisher along the creeks in their woods—and to be wary of them because they killed cats. When my cat wandered curiously into the culvert near the house, it sent me into a panic over what might lurk inside waiting to gobble my tabby, Triscuit. We lived near a saltmarsh. Fishers and other weasels, more formally known as the Mustelidae family, were more common 20 years ago; nowadays if I see one, I think of it as a rare treat. In particular, there are three weasels that are rarely seen but still inhabit woods and wetlands of North America: the fisher, the wolverine and the ermine.

In the last ten years, there has been some attention on the successful reintroduction of wolverines (Gulo gulo) and fishers (Martes pennant) into areas of North America where the populations had declined significantly due to habitat loss. Both are members of the weasel family with some differences.  The fisher, found only in North America, is a medium-sized weasel with a long body, short legs and long bushy tail. Its population had been on the decline—especially in the Northwest due to logging and habitat loss, until the early 2000s, when biologists with Conservation Northwest (partnered with FWS) began the process of reintroducing native fishers in the Pacific Northwest http://www.conservationnw.org/wildlife-habitat/fisher To watch a video of the 2009 release of fishers, go to:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBageyLQk3k On the west coast, especially in Oregon, the fisher has been threatened by fragmented habitat, wildfires and incidental mortality (getting hit by a car, getting caught accidentally in a trap). Currently the west coast fishers are being considered for Endangered Species Protection and they are listed as a “sensitive species” by the U.S. Forest Service. http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/Species/Data/Fisher/ There are a lot of misconceptions about the fisher. Some that I have read or heard can be dispelled easily: 1) they do not fish, despite their name. 2) They are not part-cat, even though a nickname is the “fisher-cat.”  3) Domestic cats are not high on their list of dietary preferences. Cool fact: the fisher is one of the only specific predators of the porcupine! For a slide-show of a fisher reintroduction/release project, go to:http://www.defenders.org/wildlife_and_habitat/wildlife/fisher.php

The wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family. Known for its voracious appetite, a “glutton” (thus its Latin name), it’s a surprisingly strong and fearless competitor for food. A 30 pound wolverine might even try to steal from a 500-pound black bear. A film by NATURE depicted the wolverine as a rare and wonderful creature (Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom):http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/
episodes/wolverine-chasing-the-phantom/photo-gallery/6064/

The wolverine’s oversized paws act like snowshoes for this predator, which depends on an abundance of snow in winter for hunting. Although once driven to near extinction from over-hunting by man for its fur, wolverines are now threatened by climate change. Recently the FWS released its decision (December 13, 2010) that the wolverine warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act but was precluded from protection. Wolverine biologist Jeff Copeland’s study demonstrated that wolverines depend on deep spring snow cover, a condition threatened by a warming climate.http://www.crownofthecontinent.net/content/wolverines-in-glacier-national-park/cot298F435364A472CBE and http://www.hcn.org/blogs/range/climate-changes-threat-to-the-wolverine For more about wolverine conservation in the Northwest, visit:http://www.conservationnw.org/wildlife-habitat/wolverine For an outstanding blog about wolverines describing an ecologist’s work in Wyoming, visit:http://egulo.wordpress.com/ For more facts about the wolverine, visit the Wolverine Foundation at: http://www.wolverinefoundation.org/

Like the wolverine, the ermine, or short-tailed weasel, (Mustela ermine) also depends on snow for hunting, but for a slightly different reason: camouflage. Ermines’ coats turn white in winter to blend in and allow them to hunt their prey unseen. In the spring, their coats molt and they turn mottled, a blend of white and black and brown, until their dark sleek summer coats grow out completely. Many arctic mammals have the ability to change their winter coat to be camouflaged in the snow: http://www.ehow.com/list_6759427_list-mammals-winter-camouflage.htmlUnlike the wolverine and fisher, the ermine is much more common, perhaps because it is smaller and has adapted to live wherever it can find prey. Ermines like to live in marshes, woodlands with bogs and even tundra. It adapts well to a harsh living environment. For my poem titled, “Ermine,” go here.

Those who like to go out on snowshoes may come across tracks of animals that they never see. A weasel’s tracks have five toes on front and back feet. For other tips on identifying animal tracks in the snow, go to:  How to Identify Animal Tracks in Snow | Trails.com http://www.trails.com/how_
2941_identify-animal-tracks-snow.html#ixzz1BJV
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 and check out this blog about one woman’s quest to follow a set of fisher tracks through the woods and wetlands last winter:http://www.tamiasoutside.com/2010/01/04/track/ For an excellent guide to identifying wolverine and fisher-marten tracks, as well as other carnivores (coyote, wolf, lynx), refer to this Forest Carnivore Identification Guide: http://home.mcn.net/~wtu/tracking.html

Move over, Mangroves!

Oh, wait, if the mangrove swamps get developed, the beaches go out to sea! Hmmm. I got the email version of a postcard from my family, who are spending a week in the Caribbean, and everyone is upset at the lack of fish and destruction of mangrove forests. My mother studied reefs and seaweeds while a college student in the Virgin Islands more than thirty years ago. She told me stories of snorkeling in creepy eel-filled mangrove swamps, marvelous for a marine biology student to observe: mangroves are nurseries for many marine species, e.g. several species of sharks and fish. Mangroves are unique habitats because the plants live in saltwater, brackish water and freshwater; they are on the fringe between the land and sea.  Those in the Caribbean have declined by 42% over the last 25 years, according to the Mangrove Action Project. http://mangroveactionproject.org/mangroves For a fact sheet on the importance of mangroves (published by Fish & Wildlife, USVI) seehttp://bcrc.bio.umass.edu/vifishandwildlife/Education/FactSheet/PDF_Docs/
28Mangroves.pdf

Negril’s beaches (Jamaica) have undergone severe damages due to mangrove destruction, according to a study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Division of Early Warning and Assessment. See:  Final Throes for Jamaica’s ‘Hippie Paradise’?(April 2010) http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50980

In addition to development pressure, mangrove charcoal, highly prized for its long-lasting heat, provides income for several communities in the Caribbean. Caribbean charcoal comes from two sources—mangrove swamps and dry forests. For a video on mangroves, see: http://www.channelg.tv/video.php?project_id=8

According to a recent Coastal Living article, “9 coastal wonders to see now,” mangrove forests are on the list of places to visit sooner rather than later due to the environmental pressures they currently face and their looming fate.http://www.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL/04/06/coastal.wonders/ (Incidentally, Casco Bay, Maine is also on the list but because of nitrogen run-off problems on beaches. USM’s Muskie School of Public Service also presented a recent study on the warming of Casco Bay with another set of warnings and their potential impact on the bay area. http://blogs.usm.maine.edu/muskie/2010/02/01/report-reveals-the-warming-of-casco-bay/) Mangroves are also affected by climate change impacts: Caribbean mangroves adjust to rising sea level through biotic controls on change in soil elevation by Karen L. McKee et. al. (2007)http://www.serc.si.edu/labs/animal_plant_interaction/pubs/McKee%20et%20al%202007.pdf

Update: Vital Mangroves On The Edge Of Extinction Thanks to All-You-Can-Eat Shrimp (Book Review) – Treehugger.com August 2011