Saturday, May 26, 2012

Coastal N.C. counties fighting sea-level rise prediction

From: Charlotte Observer

By Bruce Henderson

State lawmakers are considering a measure that would limit how North Carolina prepares for sea-level rise, which many scientists consider one of the surest results of climate change.

Federal authorities say the North Carolina coast is vulnerable because of its low, flat land and thin fringe of barrier islands. A state-appointed science panel has reported that a 1-meter rise is likely by 2100.

The calculation, prepared for the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, was intended to help the state plan for rising water that could threaten 2,000 square miles. Critics say it could thwart economic development on just as large a scale.

A coastal economic development group called NC-20 attacked the report, insisting the scientific research it cited is flawed. The science panel last month confirmed its findings, recommending that they be reassessed every five years.

But NC-20, named for the 20 coastal counties, appears to be winning its campaign to undermine them.

The Coastal Resources Commission agreed to delete references to planning benchmarks – such as the 1-meter prediction – and new development standards for areas likely to be inundated.

The N.C. Division of Emergency Management, which is using a $5 million federal grant to analyze the impact of rising water, lowered its worst-case scenario from 1 meter to 15 inches by 2100.

Several local governments on the coast have passed resolutions against sea-level rise policies.

When the General Assembly convened this month, Republican legislators went further.

They circulated a bill that authorizes only the coastal commission to calculate how fast the sea is rising. It said the calculations must be based only on historic trends, leaving out the accelerated rise that climate scientists widely expect this century if warming increases and glaciers melt.

The bill, a substitute for an unrelated measure the N.C. House passed last year, has not been introduced. State legislative officials say they can’t predict how it might be changed or when or if it will emerge.

Longtime East Carolina University geologist Stan Riggs, a science panel member who studies the evolution of the coast, said the 1-meter estimate is squarely within the mainstream of research.

“We’re throwing this science out completely, and what’s proposed is just crazy for a state that used to be a leader in marine science,” he said of the proposed legislation. “You can’t legislate the ocean, and you can’t legislate storms.”

NC-20 Chairman Tom Thompson, economic development director in Beaufort County, said his members – many of them county managers and other economic development officials – are convinced that climate changes and sea-level rises are part of natural cycles. Climate scientists who say otherwise, he believes, are wrong.

The group’s critiques quote scientists who believe the rate of sea-level rise is actually slowing. NC-20 says the state should rely on historical trends until acceleration is detected. The computer models that predict a quickening rate could be inaccurate, it says.

“If you’re wrong and you start planning today at 39 inches, you could lose millions of dollars in development and 2,000 square miles would be condemned as a flood zone,” Thompson said. “Is it really a risk to wait five years and see?”

Planners concerned

State officials say the land below the 1-meter elevation would not be zoned as a flood zone and off-limits to development. Planners say it’s crucial to allow for rising water when designing bridges, roads, and sewer lines that will be in use for decades.

“We’re concerned about it,” said Philip Prete, an environmental planner in Wilmington, which will soon analyze the potential effects of rising water on infrastructure. “For the state to tie our hands and not let us use the information that the state science panel has come up with makes it overly restrictive.”

Other states, he said, are “certainly embracing planning.”

Maine is preparing for a rise of up to 2 meters by 2100, Delaware 1.5 meters, Louisiana 1 meter and California 1.4 meters. Southeastern Florida projects up to a 2-foot rise by 2060.

NC-20 says the state should plan for 8 inches of rise by 2100, based on the historical trend in Wilmington.

The science panel based its projections on records at the northern coast town of Duck, where the rate is twice as fast, and factored in the accelerated rise expected to come later. Duck was chosen, the panel said, because of the quality of its record and site on the open ocean.

The panel cites seven studies that project global sea level will rise as much as 1 meter, or more, by 2100. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated in 2007 a rise of no more than 23 inches, but did not factor in the melting land ice that many scientists now expect.

NC-20’s science adviser, Morehead City physicist John Droz, says he consulted with 30 sea-level experts, most of them not named in his latest critique of the panel’s work. He says the 13-member panel failed to do a balanced review of scientific literature, didn’t use the best available science and made unsupported assumptions.

“I’m not saying these people are liars,” Thompson said. “I’m saying they have a passion for sea-level rise and they can’t give it up.”

John Dorman of the N.C. Division of Emergency Management, which is preparing a study of sea-level impact, said an “intense push” by the group and state legislators led to key alterations.

Instead of assuming a 1-meter, worst-case rise, he said, the study will report the impact of seas that rise only 3.9, 7.8, 11.7 and 15.6 inches by 2100. The 1-meter analysis will be available to local governments that request it.

“It’s not the product we had put the grant out for,” Dorman said, referring to the $5 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that’s paying for the study. Coastal communities will still find the work useful, he predicts.

Finding common ground

The backlash on the coast centers on the question of whether sea-level rise will accelerate, said Bob Emory, chairman of the Coastal Resources Commission.

Emory, who lives in New Bern, said the commission deleted wording from its proposed sea-level rise policy that hinted at new regulations in order to find common ground. “Any remaining unnecessarily inflammatory language that’s still in there, we want to get out,” he said.

New information will be incorporated as it comes out, he said.

“There are people who disagree on the science. There are people who worry about what impact even talking about sea-level rise will have on development,” Emory said. “It’s my objective to have a policy that makes so much sense that people would have trouble picking at it.”

In written comments, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the legislation that circulated earlier this month appeared consistent with the coastal commission’s policy changes.

But the department warned of the “unintended impacts” of not allowing agencies other than the coastal commission to develop sea-level rise policies. The restriction could undermine the Division of Emergency Management’s study, it said, and the ability of transportation and emergency-management planners to address rising waters.

The N.C. Coastal Federation, the region’s largest environmental group, said the bill could hurt local governments in winning federal planning grants. Insurance rates could go up, it says.

Relying solely on historical trends, the group said, is like “being told to make investment decisions strictly on past performance, and not being able to consider market trends and research.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lawmakers Form Long Island Sound Caucus

From: EastHaven Patch  by: Fred Musante

With legislators from East Haven in key roles, the caucus will focus on shoreline issues.

With sea level rise from global warming looming and coastal storms threatening the future of Connecticut’s shoreline, state legislators in Hartford have formed a Long Island Sound caucus in order to speak with a more unified purpose about coastal issues.

The New Haven Register reported that the new bipartisan caucus, which includes lawmakers representing East Haven, received the support of Gov. Dannel Malloy Wednesday when its formation was announced at the state capitol.

The Register said state Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, and state Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, would act as caucus co-chairman. Fasano represents East Haven. Also on the caucus steering committee is state Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who also represents part of East Haven.

Goals of the caucus would include issues affecting the environment, economic development, public access, funding for Long Island Sound programs and fisheries resources.

Friday, April 06, 2012

'Surging Seas': N.J. in top 5 states most threatened by rising sea levels, study says

From: newjerseynewsroom  By: Angeloa Daidone

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The waters are rising, and New Jersey coastal communities are right in their course.

A study by a Princeton-based research group lists the Garden State as one of the top five states most threatened by rising sea levels which are increasing the likelihood of more catastrophic tidal flooding during storms, the Press of Atlantic City reported.

The study, titled "Surging Seas," said the seas are predicted to rise about 15 inches by 2050 in Atlantic City and Cape May. As a result, storms that used to be considered once-in-a-lifetime events will happen more frequently, the study said. Cape May and Atlantic City may see levels rise by half a foot by 2030, the study stated.

Researchers based their findings on current census population, existing topographical maps and digital map analysis showing inundation zones by each foot of water above the current average high tide line.

Of the 22 coastal states, Florida and Louisiana have the largest number of people at risk of being affected by sea level rise. New Jersey ranked fifth. Recent storms have seen an increase in severe flooding, impacting residential communities, major roads and businesses.

The combination of flooding from storm surges on top of an increased base sea level would put more than 200,000 people and 160,000 homes at risk in New Jersey, the study stated.

Storm surges from northeasters differ from hurricane and tropical storm surges, particularly because there is a limit to how high the water can reach, said a researcher at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. A northeaster storm surge only will reach about six feet, but will last much longer. A hurricane can bring a more localized high surge, but the coastal flooding will last only a short time, the report stated.

What's at stake in the long run is the main concern of the findings, experts said. Ratables and tourism dollars in vacation communities, residential property values, and beaches and natural coastlines will likely take a big hit if the issue is not addressed on a wide scale, experts said.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

As climate changes, Louisiana seeks to lift a highway

From: The Washington Post

Tim Osborn/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association - Rising sea levels near Leeville, La., during the past 100 years have left this 1905 cemetery entirely underwater.

GOLDEN MEADOW, La.— Here on the side of Louisiana’s Highway 1, next to Raymond’s Bait Shop, a spindly pole with Global Positioning System equipment and a cellphone stuck on top charts the water’s gradual encroachment on dry land.

In 1991 this stretch of road through the marshlands of southern Louisiana was 3.9 feet above sea level, but the instrument — which measures the ground’s position in relation to sea level — shows the land has lost more than a foot against the sea. It sank two inches in the past 16 months alone.

Graphic

Rising seas will make the road to Port Fourchon, La., largely unusable by the end of the century.

Click Here to View Full Graphic Story

Rising seas will make the road to Port Fourchon, La., largely unusable by the end of the century.

Video

Windell Curole, general manager of the South Lafourche Levee District, and Henri Boulet, executive director of the LA 1 Coalition, discuss the challenge sea level rise poses for Louisiana's Highway 1.

Windell Curole, general manager of the South Lafourche Levee District, and Henri Boulet, executive director of the LA 1 Coalition, discuss the challenge sea level rise poses for Louisiana's Highway 1.

That’s a problem because Highway 1, unprotected by levees, connects critical oil and gas resources in booming Port Fourchon to the rest of the nation.

Ten miles of the highway is now standing 22 feet above sea level on cement piles. But another seven miles is not, and if less than half a mile of this highway succumbs to the 14-foot storm surges expected in the future, the highway will need to be shut down, cutting off the port.

Local residents and business leaders are demanding that the federal government help pay to rebuild and elevate the remaining section of Highway 1, adding two miles to span the levees. Federal officials have provided scientific and technical expertise but will not contribute funding unless the state pledges to complete the road.

Louisiana says it doesn’t have the money.

The dilemma facing this important lowland road is one shared by communities across the country as climate change begins to transform the nation’s landscape. By 2030, many areas in the United States are likely to see storm surges combining with rising sea levels to bring waters at least four feet above the local high-tide line, according to a report released last Wednesday by Climate Central, a nonprofit research group. Nearly 2.6 million homes are on land that would be inundated.

The Obama administration is trying to plan for a country altered by shifts in precipitation, higher oceans and more intense periods of heat. It is rethinking infrastructure projects and creating a new plan for how to manage plants and wildlife in the face of global warming. Every agency is required to come up with a plan by June for how to adapt to climate change.

“It’s about how do we incorporate planning for a future that may look very different from the way the world looks today,” said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who is spearheading the administration’s federal adaptation strategy.

Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who started measuring tides in Louisiana in the mid-1800s, have analyzed the numbers for Highway 1, and they do not bode well. At today’s rate of sea-level rise — 9.24 millimeters a year — the road would be under water roughly 22 days of the year by 2030.

Windell Curole didn’t need NOAA’s number-crunching to tell him what’s coming. The 60-year-old general manager of the South Lafourche Levee District said he couldn’t see open water from this road when he was growing up. Now, it is in plain sight, just yards away.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Rising Sea Levels Could Boost Storm Surges

Source: redOrbit

Rising Sea Levels Could Boost Storm Surges

Sea level rise due to global warming has already doubled the annual risk of coastal flooding of historic proportions across widespread areas of the United States, according to a new report from Climate Central. By 2030, many locations are likely to see storm surges combining with sea level rise to raise waters at least 4 feet above the local high-tide line. Nearly 5 million U.S. residents live in 2.6 million homes on land below this level. More than 6 million people live on land below 5 feet; by 2050, the study projects that widespread areas will experience coastal floods exceeding this higher level.

Titled “Surging Seas,” the report is the first to analyze how sea level rise caused by global warming is compounding the risk from storm surges throughout the coastal contiguous U.S. It is also first to generate local and national estimates of the land, housing and population in vulnerable low-lying areas, and associate this information with flood risk timelines. The Surging Seas website includes a searchable, interactive online map that zooms down to neighborhood level, and shows risk zones and statistics for 3,000 coastal towns, cities, counties and states affected up to 10 feet above the high tide line.

In 285 municipalities, more than half the population lives below the 4-foot mark. One hundred and six of these places are in Florida, 65 are in Louisiana, and ten or more are in New York (13), New Jersey (22), Maryland (14), Virginia (10) and North Carolina (22). In 676 towns and cities spread across every coastal state in the lower 48 except Maine and Pennsylvania, more than 10% of the population lives below the 4-foot mark.

Tidal gauge records show that the sea has already risen 8 inches globally during the last century, and projections point to a steep acceleration. “Sea level rise is not some distant problem that we can just let our children deal with. The risks are imminent and serious,” said report lead author Dr. Ben Strauss of Climate Central. “Just a small amount of sea level rise, including what we may well see within the next 20 years, can turn yesterday’s manageable flood into tomorrow’s potential disaster. Global warming is already making coastal floods more common and damaging.”

In addition to the Surging Seas report and website, Climate Central is releasing fact sheets laying out the risks for each coastal state. Staff scientists (Ben Strauss, Claudia Tebaldi, Remik Ziemlinski) have also authored two peer-reviewed studies being published March 15th in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, with co-authors at the University of Arizona (Jeremy Weiss, Jonathan Overpeck) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Chris Zervas).  In addition to hosting the map tool, the national report, state fact sheets, and the peer-reviewed papers, the website, SurgingSeas.org, includes downloadable data for all the cities, counties and states studied; embeddable widgets; republishable graphics; and links to dozens of local, state and national planning documents for coping with rising seas.

The website also shows how the threat from climate change-driven sea level rise and storm surge is expected to increase over time at 55 tidal gauges around the U.S. and near most major coastal cities. At the majority of these gauges, floods high enough to formerly be called worse than once-a-century events have more than doubled in likelihood.

Land, housing and population vulnerability estimates are based on 2010 Census data and on land elevations relative to potential water levels, and do not take into account potential protections.  However, properties behind walls or levees may suffer enhanced damage when defenses are overtopped, or during rainstorms, because the same structures that normally keep waters out can keep floodwaters in once they arrive.

“Escalating floods from sea level rise will affect millions of people, and threaten countless billions of dollars of damage to buildings and infrastructure,” Strauss said. “To preserve our coastal towns, cities and treasures, the nation needs to confront greenhouse gas pollution today, while also preparing to address sea level rise that can no longer be avoided.