Tag Archives: sea level rise

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. 

Surging Seas and Hybrid Storms

NASA officials nicknamed Hurricane Sandy “Bride of Frankenstorm.” Strange behavior patterns—hitting the northeast as a mix of nor’easter blizzard and hurricane conditions created a powerful hybrid storm that affected many communities. In Maine, we felt the storm’s most severe impacts the night of the full moon on October 29th. Footage of storm surge on the news looked like the forceful wave action in “Thunder Hole” at Acadia National Park. Throughout New England, New York and New Jersey, many people were still without power when the nor’easter hit this week. Hurricane Sandy’s unusual hybrid classification and other factors set a precedent. Coupled with the tides of the full moon, storm surge was more intense, causing more flooding to occur. Are we likely to see and experience powerful hybrid storms like this in the future? What tools are available to predict storm surge?

Forecasters called Hurricane Sandy a “perfect storm.” View photos of the storm as seen from space. Last winter Strange Wetlands reported on the Red Cross/Red Crescent’sinvolvement in the IPCC report on the link between extreme weather disasters and climate change. This week Climate Central’s Surging Seas tool demonstrated how effects of climate change, including sea level rise and storm surge, made Hurricane Sandy worsethan it might have been otherwise.

Federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and NASA have been measuring storm surge for many decades, since the 1960s (see above)—long before most people started talking about sea level rise. According to a NASA presentation on An Analysis of Storm Surge Attenuation using USGS, FEMA and NASA data, there is historical data to support the claim that wetlands significantly reduce storm surge. Wetland scientists in the 1960s asserted that 2.7 miles of wetlands reduced storm surge by 1 foot. More recent data from Hurricane Rita was used to assess the storm impacts to wetlands (such as causing wetland loss) as well as wetlands’ role in lessening the effects of storm surge. Therefore wetland losses along the Gulf of Mexico coastline in Louisiana, for instance, and along other areas of coastline on the eastern seaboard, intensified the amount of storm surge during recent hurricanes, such as Hurricane Irene and Sandy. (Fitzpatrick, et. al. 2008) Also see Storm Surge Reduction by Wetlands.

While SLAMM—Sea Level Affecting Marsh Model—may be familiar to you, a tool used in analyzing sea level rise, especially with respect to wetlands, have you heard of SLOSH? Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes, (SLOSH) is a tool used to analyze storm surgeHurricane Sandy’s storm surge was mapped before it made landfall. The SLOSH model was applied to Hurricane Sandy prior to Oct. 29th and it analyzed surges of various levels (2 feet, 3 feet, 4 feet, etc.) At most locations, meteorologists predicted unprecedented levels of surgeusing this tool and other analyses. Tools like SLOSH are only as good as the available data. Future budget cuts threaten data collection tools, such as ocean bouysOther storm surge analysis tools were used to predict Sandy’s surge levels and ultimately, citizens were evacuated in areas where the path of the storm surge was predicted on the maps using those models.

Some useful fact sheets and further reading on the importance of wetlands in preventing storm surge are linked below:

Storm surge & wetlands in Louisiana (NWF fact sheet)
Mitigating Storm Surge with Vegetation & Wetlands (Army Corps of Engineers, 2007)
Analysis of Storm Surge Attenuation & Wetlands (NASA) (2008)
The potential of wetlands in reducing storm surge (Ocean Engineering, 2010)
Hurricane Sandy Geospatial Resources (NOAA Digital Coast, 2012)

Climate Change Films: Sea Level Rise in the Lens

Since Strange Wetlands’ post on wetland videos anddocumentaries a few years ago, climate change adaptation and wetlands, including sea level rise and water conservation—have taken center stage in recent films. Some films address climate change adaptation, water resources, sea level rise and/or other impacts of climate change affecting wetlands. Others deal with the stressors on wildlife and natural resources, including wetland habitats. The IMAX documentary film, “To the Arctic,” about a family of polar bears and the issues facing wildlife in the Arctic, narrated by Meryl Streep, premiers this spring (2012). Another award-winning film, “The Island President,” illuminates the threat of sea level rise to the Maldives, a developing nation of 2000 islands off the coast of India.

The American Museum of Natural History posted a short video on arctic ecosystems in the face of climate change called “The Ecology of Climate Change” earlier this month. The film presents some research on boreal forests from Woods Hole Research Center and University of Florida. Like other recent films, it turns the attention to natural resources and adaptation as opposed to a focus on reducing carbon emissions, which was a more common theme in media a few years ago.

NOAA Climate Services and its Digital Coast webpages have a lot to offer for videos and visual presentations, including a short general video called “Climate Change: Impacts, Solutions and Perceptions” and a number of other climate change videos.

A simple search for “sea level rise” on Youtube lists over 5000 videos, including this USGS video: “Sea level rise, subsidence and wetland loss.” A number of videos look at the planning and analysis that went into coastal adaptation management plans in states like Florida such as this 2012 video: Adapting Coastal Communities to Sea-Level Rise: Why Isn’t Anybody Doing Anything? And this New York City (Wall Street Journalvideo on sea level rise. Some of the Youtube sea level rise videos explore the topic in other areas of the world, such as islands, internationally. For example, a series of short videos look at climate change adaptation in Tanzania.

States working on climate change adaptation plans have presented their analyses in short films to help educate citizens. For example, a Wisconsin’s Changing Climate video was produced by the WICCI Climate Working Group, looking at climate impacts in the state of Wisconsin projected to 2055. There are a number of other similar educational videos if you look for them state-by-state, or visit state universities’ websites to search for current research projects, which often have videos or short documentaries about the work. Student-made films can be very good, too. A creative example is the Beneath the Waves Film Fest Student Film Winner: “Tropic Cascades” (2012). A Brown University student made a film on Cape Cod salt marsh ecology.

The U.S. Forest Service has compiled a good list of climate change videos and presentations that pertain to impacts to natural resources, including water and fish, forests and carbon and adaptation.  For example, a presentation on “Challenges for Conserving and Managing Headwater Aquatic Ecosystems Under a Changing Climate” is available on its website.

ASWM’s Climate Change—and specifically the Sea Level Rise Tools webpages—have a number of resources, including USGS’s video on “Effects of Sea-Level Rise on Coastal Wetlands in the Mississippi Delta” and this video, “Converging Currents in Climate: Relevant Conservation: Water, Infrastructure and Institutions” by Conservation International (2011). Communicating to the public about climate change is often difficult when the language is constantly changing. See NOAA’s video on Communication & Climate Change (2012). Other short films illustrate the dynamics of coastal wetlands protection in the climate change context such as this one on mangrove forests by Wetlands International (2011). The Sea Level Rise Tools section of ASWM’s website also points to Coastal Climate Learning Tools (includes videos, wikis, webinars, training, etc.) and a video presentation on “Sea Change: Researchers Use Computer Modeling to Understand Rising Seas and Coastal Risks.”

Earlier this winter, Strange Wetlands looked at the link between Red Cross, extreme weather events and climate change. The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre has a webpage with a number of short films and videos presenting topics ranging from hurricanes and climate change to preparing for climate change and adaptation.

If there are other good (and recent) videos, films or documentaries that I missed on this short list, please leave a comment below with the title and link. Thank you!

Update: November 2012: Chasing Ice, a film capturing the faster-than expected melting of glaciers http://www.chasingice.com/ is a breathtaking documentary and award-winning film. Watch the trailer here: http://www.chasingice.com/

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/

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

Endangered Vacations

Summer vacation weather is finally upon us here in the Northeast. I recently spent a couple of days in Acadia National Park, where I swam in the ocean and attended a wedding on Sand Beach. I like to think that I can visit the beautiful park anytime I wish. But some vacation spots in the U.S. might be endangered. It’s frightening to think that some of our favorite places—coastal estuaries, green space around a beloved lake, underfunded national parks and enchanting wetlands—may be diminished or lost in the years to come, so that the next generation won’t be able to enjoy them except in pictures or videos. A couple of months ago, the New York Times ran a story on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2009/06/03/03climatewire-arranging-a-slow-farewell-to-a-coastal-wildl-84276.html?scp=1&sq=Alligator%20River%20National%20Wildlife&st=cse The USGS has begun to update wetland maps to show the losses along Louisiana’s eroding coasthttp://www.houmatoday.com/article/20090810/ARTICLES/908109945?Title=Updated-maps-help-document-wetland-loss.

ASWM asked its members for suggestions for a “top ten” list of particularly threatened wetlands and wildlife refuges which allow public access. This list could actually be much longer. Here are the wetlands that made the list of “endangered vacations.”

10.  Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in MD’s Chesapeake Bay area.  Subsidence and sea level rise in particular are leading to open-water conversion. Visit:http://www.fws.gov/blackwater/

9. Ruby Valley Wildlife Refuge in Ruby Valley, Nevada –If climate experts are right in their predictions, the western U.S. will become even more arid than it is.  There is a lot of groundwater-fed irrigation in this valley to grow hay for cattle and horses, which puts even more pressure on this resource. Visit:http://www.stateparks.

8. Cheyenne Bottoms in Kansas is at risk due to water withdrawals and diversions.  The nearby Quivira NWR has oil rigs that caused some spills during the last round of flooding there in 2007.  For info on Cheyenne Bottoms, visit: http://www.cheyennebottoms.net/and http://www.kdwp.state.ks.us/news/KDWP-Info/Locations/Wildlife-Areas/Region-3/Cheyenne-Bottoms/Area-News and for Quivira NWR, go to:http://www.fws.gov/quivira/

7. Cape Cod National Seashore is under pressure from sea level rise and more mysteriously–sudden wetland dieback for the past few decades.http://www.nps.gov/caco/naturescience/salt-marsh-dieback.htm andhttp://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs095-02/fs095-02.pdf

6. Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in NC is threatened by sea level rise (or threatened to turn into a brackish marsh from a wooded freshwater system) Visit:http://www.fws.gov/alligatorriver/ Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge in FL is another “poster child” for wildlife refuges under siege from climate change impacts. Visit:http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=41580

5. Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Southeast Louisiana is threatened by sea level rise and salt water intrusion. Visit: http://www.fws.gov/bigbranchmarsh/

4. Florida Everglades is dependent on nutrients (if it gets the slightest amounts of phosphorus, the vegetation turns to cattails.) Threat factors include population increases and development, sugarcane agriculture. Visit: http://www.nps.gov/ever/ and go to:http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/SouthFlorida/everglades/endangeredglades.html

3. Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, HI The last natural wetlands on Hawaiian islands are under pressure from invasive species, e.g. mangroves.http://www.fws.gov/kealiapond/  Also see information on sea level rise and Hawai’i at:http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/coasts/sealevel/

2. Prairie Potholes – Isolated wetlands are under threat since their exclusion from federal protections post-SWANCC and Carabell/Rapanos decisions. Visit:http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/types/pothole.html andhttp://www.ducks.org/conservation/initiative45.aspx

1. Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in AK. These wetlands are drying up as a result of climate change. Visit: http://alaska.fws.gov/nwr/yukonflats/wildland.htm

Finally, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) recently published a report (June 2009) on the country’s most imperiled refuges “Ten of the Most Vulnerable National Wildlife Refuges.” While these aren’t necessarily vacation spots, their top ten list is a relevant comparison.http://www.peer.org/docs/nwr/09_18_6_most_imperiled_refuges_2009.pdf