Sea Level Rise

Addressing Tomorrow’s Emergency with Today’s Plans

Eroded coastline near the Shinnecock Nation’s territory on Long Island, NY

Eroded coastline near the Shinnecock Nation’s territory on Long Island, NY

By Irene Boland Nielson

Fourth in a five-part series on climate change issues.

Native Americans have long understood the need to be caretakers of the earth and were among the first to recognize the signs of climate change. It is no surprise that some tribes are leading the way to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

One such tribe is the Shinnecock Indian Nation on the South Fork of Long Island. They experienced firsthand the potentially devastating impacts of climate change when Superstorm Sandy slammed into the area in October 2012. Shoreline scouring and flooding of roads, burial grounds and basements during Sandy showed that climate change poses immediate threats to the Shinnecock. The Nation is now taking broad steps to adapt to climate change and setting a good example for other island communities.

First, the Shinnecock looked to neighbors and peers, and held a community workshop to discuss climate threats. The tribe worked with funding from the EPA, in partnership with the St. Regis Mohawk, a Tribal Nation straddling the St. Lawrence River between the U.S. – Canada border. Next, they used climate vulnerability assessments from the Peconic Estuary and convened all Shinnecock department heads to identify climate threats to their Nation. This is important, since tomorrow’s emergency needs are linked with long-term community plans for the future.

Global rise of sea levels is the most confidently projected climate threat, since water expands when warmer like a heated teapot. (See yesterday’s blog on sea level rise.) With rising seas, by 2050, a storm with one percent chance of happening any year could inundate almost half of the Nation, including some evacuation routes. The Shinnecock’s climate adaptation plan calls for restoring their shoreline as a frontline of defense against flooding with native plants, as well as upgrading overwhelmed culverts to protect sacred burial grounds. Precious coastal water aquifers are also vulnerable to encroaching saltwater. The Shinnecock will reduce water contamination by replacing tribal cesspools with a closed community sewer and wastewater treatment facility. The plan also calls for improving the Nation’s food security by reestablishing community farming and protecting vital shellfish beds and reducing fossil fuels, open burning, idling, and tree loss.

Cleaner air, shorelines protected by natives plants, energy and food security are all hallmarks of resiliency in the Shinnecock Indian Nation Climate Change Adaptation Plan. Island communities should follow the example set by the Shinnecock Indian Nation and make plans to protect themselves and their neighbors from climate change impacts.

About the Author: Irene Boland Nielson is the Climate Change Coordinator for the New York City based office of the U.S. EPA. She joined the EPA as a Presidential Management Fellow and has worked on a range of issues, including the Agency’s Strategic Plan, a memorandum of agreement with Department of Defense for a sustainable Guam, and the EPA Climate Adaptation Plan. Currently, she co-chairs the EPA Region 2 Climate Change Workgroup, administers Climate Showcase Community grants and works to promote sustainability in communities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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King Tides and Sea Level Rise

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Michael Craghan

For years I lived in a little beach town at the Jersey Shore in Manasquan, N.J. I took these pictures of tidal flooding in 2007. I was interested in human/environmental interaction and found a great story right where I lived. Obviously people here live with water.

This gray house sits about one foot above the spring tide.  No worries for the tourists after a day at the beach

This gray house sits about one foot above the spring tide. No worries for the tourists after a day at the beach

The same house is at center.

The same house is at center.

Little did I realize that I would move to Washington, D.C., and be working with EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries and the National Estuary programs at EPA and promoting “king tides” to raise awareness about sea level rise.

A king tide is simply the highest normally occurring tide of the year. What’s fascinating about king tides is that they provide a glimpse of the future. Potential sea level rise will make today’s king tides become the future’s everyday tides. You don’t have to imagine sea level rise because after about 1 foot of relative sea level rise, this neighborhood will flood like this almost every day.

When I was in New Jersey last December, I saw that this same house absorbed a lot of tidal flooding during Hurricane Sandy.

Flood height is shown by stains on the house and the helpful green line spray-painted on the window about five or six feet above the ground.

Flood height is shown by stains on the house and the helpful green line spray-painted on the window about five or six feet above the ground.

The flood line on the house shows how much water was here during Sandy.

The flood line on the house shows how much water was here during Sandy.

When I was back again last month, I found that the home had been demolished. I hope people take sea level rise into account as they redevelop, particularly since Fourth Avenue in Manasquan floods from the tides now.

On most of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico shorelines, 2013 king tides will be coming this month. See this website to learn when. If you are at the coast, I hope you get a chance to take photos at high tide and to think about what the future will be like when sea level is higher than it is now.

About the author: Michael Craghan is a geographer who works in EPA’s office of wetlands, oceans and watersheds. He manages the Climate Ready Estuaries program, which works to help coastal places plan for sustainable futures.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Adapting to Sea Level Rise in Delaware: Your Chance to Engage in the Discussion

By Christina Catanese

 

Are you curious about how sea level rise will affect the beach towns you visit in the summer, and how coastal communities can adapt to these impacts?  If you’re in the Delaware area, you’ll have this opportunity in the coming weeks.

Impact of Sea Level Rise Scenarios on Mid Atlantic Coastal Wetland areas

Impact of Sea Level Rise Scenarios on Mid Atlantic Coastal Wetland areas

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources is holding a series of public engagement sessions to give residents a chance to hear more about Delaware’s vulnerability to sea level rise and adaptation strategies that the state can take.  DNREC invites the public to ask questions, discuss potential options, and provide feedback at these sessions.  There will be displays, presentations, and discussion – get a preview and more information on this page.

Yesterday’s session in Lewes, DE kicked off this series, but there are still two opportunities to attend:

February 19, 4-7 p.m.

New Castle Middle School

903 Delaware Street

New Castle, DE 19720

February 25, 4-7 p.m.

Kent County Levy Court

555 Bay Road (Rt. 113)

Dover, DE 19901

For more information on ecosystem impacts of climate change in the First State, you can also learn more about how the Delaware Estuary is preparing for climate change through the Climate Ready Estuaries program.

Not a Delaware resident?  You can still learn more about the Impacts of Sea Level Rise, other climate change science, and look out for similar opportunities where you live.  The impacts of climate change will vary by region – check out climate impacts in the Northeastern U.S. and in the Mid-Atlantic Region here.  What is your community doing to get ready?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Responding to Water Impacts of Climate Change

By Christina Catanese

Comment on EPA's Draft Climate Change Strategy hereWhen we hear predictions such as temperature increases of 3 degrees Celsius, and 13 inches of sea level rise resulting from climate change, we wonder what that means for us and our communities. If the ocean is at your front door, the threat is pretty clear. But for the rest of us, the implications are not so apparent. For example, did you know that climate change could impact the systems that bring us our drinking water and prevent flooding and sewer overflows?

While the impacts will vary significantly from one region to another, climate change is almost certain to cause more extreme weather events, including changing precipitation patterns and increased severity of drought and flooding. Greater frequency and intensity of rain events could also overwhelm our systems that are designed to deal with them.

As temperatures increase and sea levels rise, salt water is likely to intrude in to surface and groundwater,  resulting in more water impairment.  This can make the already challenging job for our drinking water treatment operators even tougher, and cause treatment costs to rise, which would impact our pocketbooks. Learn more about the impacts of climate change on water resources here.

How should EPA’s water programs respond to climate change? In response to these challenges, EPA recently drafted the 2012 Strategy Response to Climate Change to address impacts to water and how they could affect EPA’s water programs.  And we’re looking for your input.

You have until May 17th to provide your comments on this draft strategy.  Find out how to comment here!

Making sure that EPA’s programs continue to protect human health and the environment even in changing climate conditions will require collaboration from all of us.  We hope you’ll join us in facing up to this challenge!

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Science To Support Decision Making In A Changing Climate

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

During my 22 year career at EPA, it’s been exciting to work on the environmental issue which has been called the “capstone issue for our generation”: climate change. Climate change affects every individual in every community around the world. The team I am a part of at EPA is working closely with communities around the country to shed light on how climate change affects the things they care about, and to find ways to respond and adapt to its impacts.

There’s nothing more rewarding than meeting the people who are benefitting from the science we’re doing. It’s one thing to work in a laboratory or office and explore strategies and develop tools to help local communities respond to climate change. It’s another thing to actually meet the people whose lives you are touching.

image of a house falling onto a beach near the water's edgeI first had that chance in 2007 when I traveled to Alaska and met people from several Native Alaskan villages such as Shishmaref, Newtok, and Kivalina. I listened to heart-wrenching stories about how they must soon evacuate their coastal villages because homes and infrastructure are being destroyed by rising sea levels, storm surges, and the melting of the permafrost upon which they sit. I was faced with the stark realities of a changing climate, not with some “plausible projection” from one of our climate impacts models.

When I first started working on climate change, people imagined it to be something that wouldn’t happen for another 50 to 100 years. We quickly came to understand that the climate is already changing. It’s changing more and more rapidly as a result of human activities. When we burn fossil fuels to power our automobiles and run our factories and heat our homes, we emit greenhouse gas pollution which contributes to global warming. And we’re already seeing the impacts of global warming on peoples’ lives.

My own appreciation for the critical importance of the work we’re doing in our Global Change Research Program at EPA rose dramatically during that visit to Alaska. We’re empowering people to protect their communities and the things they value by providing the scientific information that enables them to anticipate the effects of a changing climate, developing alternative strategies for them to adapt to change, and providing tools that can help them incorporate considerations of climate change into their day-to-day decisions. We are making a difference in people’s lives.

About the author: Dr. Joel Scheraga is the National Program Director for EPA’s Global Change Research Program in the Office of Research and Development. He has been with EPA since 1987. He is also the EPA Principal Representative to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinates and integrates scientific research on climate and global change supported by the U.S. Government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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On Board the OSV BOLD: A Tree Falling in the Ocean

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

March 6, 2009 – 2:00 p.m. (Day 26)

About the author: John Senn is a press officer in Region 2, New York City. He covers water issues, including water permits, wetlands, coastal water and beaches, oceans and lakes, as well as RCRA, and Voluntary Programs. John’s been with EPA for 2.5 years.

Everyone’s heard the riddle about whether a tree falling in the woods when no one’s around actually makes a sound. A similar analogy can be made for the work being one right now on the OSV BOLD; if no one sees what we do, just how valuable is our work?

images of school children listening to a presentation be given by a diverYesterday, some 200 people—about half of them students from local middle and high schools—got a close up look at EPA’s coral reef survey and the BOLD’s inner workings through an open house at Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. EPA scientists, the ship’s crew and members of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources served as tour guides, and demonstrated the coral reef survey techniques and diving operations currently underway.

Apart from seeing all the cool gadgets and gizmos that make the ship run, as well as our dining hall and living quarters, visitors heard about the importance of studying, protecting and enhancing the health
of coral reefs around the Virgin Islands. Bill Fisher, an EPA scientist from Florida who’s been contributing to this blog, told the visitors about how the Virgin Islands, like many small islands around the globe, are specially vulnerable to the potential impacts of global climate change and human activity.

Rising sea levels affect how close people can live to the coast. Elevated ocean temperatures can alter marine habitat and change how some animals, plants and fish function, including coral reefs. The reefs, Bill explained, benefit islands like the Virgin Islands by acting as a natural (and free) barrier to destructive storm surges; man-made barriers cost millions of dollars to construct.

Coral are also particularly sensitive to even the slightest changes in the water around them, so they’re good indicators of looming water quality problems. Bill was clear to explain how almost everything we do on land affects what goes on in and under the sea. He emphasized to our visitors, especially to the students, that lowering one’s carbon footprint can have a demonstrable benefit in their backyard.

Many of the students who came aboard seemed excited to see and hear about what we were up to. Hopefully we inspired them to take action to protect this beautiful and ecologically-significant place. Maybe a few will even become environmental scientists and carry on our work someday.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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