Climatologists advise Del. to prepare for rising sea level
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
With rising sea levels threatening a portion of the Delaware coast, scientists, public policymakers and climatologists gathered on Tuesday to devise a plan on how to mitigate the threat that climate change may pose in the near future.
The Delaware Environmental Institute hosted the event, “Coastal Consequences: Sea Level Rise in Delaware,” which featured expert speakers who discussed the threat of rising sea levels on the Mid-Atlantic Region. The symposium drew an audience from the university and general public alike and aimed to bring together institutions of higher education in the state, nonprofit groups like the Delaware Nature Society and local researchers.
“We hope that the conversation that starts at the symposium continues,” Beth Chajes, the communications manager for DENIN and organizer of the symposium, said.
Chajes said she wanted the event to help people meet other researchers and scientists in order to work together in the future.
The Mid-Atlantic Region is particularly threatened by rising sea levels, oceanography professor Victor Klemas said between the combination of warming ocean temperatures and the melting arctic ice.
“Lately, there have been findings that the sea levels are rising along the mid-Atlantic coast,” Klemas said. “The sea level rise is faster than global sea rise because of winds and the Gulf Stream.”
Cynthia Rosenzweig, senior research scientist at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, delivered the keynote speech, which dealt primarily with the effects of sea level rise in New York City and with the effects of Hurricane Sandy on legislation and environmental policy.
The media accurately reported the damage Sandy caused, Rosenzweig said, and some of the areas most vulnerable to sea level rise were the ones that were hit.
Overall, the preparation for Sandy was not what it could have been, Rosenzweig said, as utilities were not prepared for the storm, and four million people were left without power for weeks, and seven subway lines were submerged in water from the East River. Despite this, Rosenzweig said the response to Sandy was encouraging.
“For the first time there is an alignment of states and municipalities and the federal government,” Rosenzweig said. “Sandy can and must be used as the tipping point in our response to climate change.”
Rosenzweig also stressed the importance of the $60 billion rebuilding effort. Of the $60 billion, she said a respectable portion is devoted to rebuilding with the future sea level rise in mind.
She said the rebuilding in the Northeast can serve as an example for other post-natural disaster efforts.
“The rest of the world is watching to see how our region handles the rebuilding,” Rosenzweig said.
The symposium featured a recent report by the Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, which indicates there are several scenarios, of different severity related to sea level rise in the Mid-Atlantic Region. In the “low level” scenario, sea levels are projected to rise by a half a meter by the year 2100. High rise projections put sea levels at 1.5 meters in the same time frame, while medium projections lie somewhere in between.
Though there is no permanent method to stop sea levels from rising, Klemas said there are ways to delay it.
“People have tried three different things—retreating, hard stabilization and soft stabilization,” Klemas said. “Recently, the soft has been the most popular, meaning you bring more sand to the beach, pump more sand, reconstruct dunes and plant new grasses.”
Though this method will widen the beach, the disadvantage is that it is expensive and not long lasting, Klemas said.
Chajes said the states other than Delaware that will be most affected are located in the Northeast region and down to Virginia. What is encouraging about the threat is how states are reacting to it, Chajes said. With the federal government facing intense gridlock, she said states and municipalities have taken matters into their own hands.
“Delaware is well on its way to planning for climate change,” Rosenzweig said. “Your focus on the coast is important, and I’d like to commend Delaware for its recent work and progress.”
Delaware is threatened primarily because of its small shape and flat geography, Chajes said, meaning it has the potential to lose more land than other surrounding states.
According to the report, Delaware stands to lose 8 to 11 percent of its land mass by 2100. The results are especially alarming since no one in the state lives farther than nine miles from tidal waters, Rosenzweig said.