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Review of "Hotspot of accelerated sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast of North America"

For years, sea level rise (SLR) has seriously impacted communities along the mid-Atlantic seacoast of the United States. Governments and individual residents in this region are financially and politically consumed by the demands of battling the effects of storms and erosion. The effects of storms and erosion consumes governments and individual residents in this region, both financially and politically. While scientists were reporting SLR predictions of less than one millimeter per year, the mid-Atlantic east coast was struggling with the devastating effects of increasingly violent inundation that has even destroyed entire communities1. The lingering discrepancy in public perception between scientific explanation and the actual effects of SLR left governments unsure of the appropriate response.

This June 2012 report published in Nature Climate Change by the U.S. Geologic Survey2 is important for three major findings:

First, although SLR is expected to be 2 to 4 feet on a global basis by the end of this century, that rise is not expected to come at the same time in all locations. Prior to the publication of this report, researchers did not consider that climate warming could affect SLR differently over time and at different locations. The authors propose that differences in the rate of SLR may be observed due to land movements, the strength of ocean currents, water temperature, and salinity.

Second, the report confirmed that the North Atlantic coast - referred to as the “hotbed” - had 3 to 4 times the global average SLR and that the trend is accelerating. Portions of the highly populated middle Atlantic region from Norfolk, VA to Boston, MA, , have experienced up to 7 inches of water rise in the past decade.

Third, the article extrapolates the accelerating trend of SLR to predict dire impact in the next few decades. The authors predict that communities in the “hotbed” can expect to see another 8 to 11 inches of sea level rise. These already impaired communities will increasingly experience devastating effects from even milder storms of the future.

This article serves as a wake-up call to governments that were slow to recognize the impact of SLR in the communities within their jurisdiction. Environmentalists used the publication of this paper and related publicity by US. Coast Guard3 to amplify their message that “ignorance of science is not going to be a defense that politicians can wield for much longer”4.

 

Sidenotes

1 The author of this review lives in Money Island, New Jersey where three of the closest communities – Thompson’s Beach, NJ, Sea Breeze NJ and Port Mahon DE - have all recently been evacuated and destroyed. The Money Island, NJ community is considered to be one the next likely victims of sea level rise.

2 Published online in Nature Climate Change at http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1597.html.

3 ClimateCentral.org, “If A Tree Falls in the Senate, Will Anyone Hear Sea Rise?”, April 20, 2012, http://www.climatecentral.org/blogs/if-a-tree-falls-in-the-senate-will-it-slow-rise-of-seas

4 U.S. Coast Guard News Release "Sea Level Rise Accelerating in U.S. Atlantic Coast" June 24, 2012, http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3256&from=rss_home#.UIQ_Y8XA-Sq