Port Mahon Delaware

Sea level rise is causing erosion that has all but swallowed this once-thriving town on the shore of the Delaware Bay.

These pictures taken in March 2011 tell the story of the current state of Port Mahon, Delaware. Once a popular bayside community, now all that is left is a boat launch lamp accessible at low tide. At high tide the road is impassible.

Physical deterioration was evident in March at the beginning of the spring storm season. It appears that if the road is not heavily maintained, it may be completely washed away with a few months. (See the photos with broken asphalt).

These sobering photos were taken on March 23, 2011, on a calm overcast day with light rain. Since this was not a full moon or any other lunar cycle, I concluded that this was a normal high tide. We generally expect tide levels to increase over the spring.

Two watermen had pulled boats and were leaving Port Mahon Road as I entered. It was about an hour before high tide. I wondered if they knew that the road became impassable at high tide, but I drove ahead anyway. The deepest water was about six inches, which is about the maximum my little SUV can handle.

On the long drive back home, I reconsidered the possibilities of hardening to resist erosion (the strategy used by my local community in New Jersey) as compared to a strategic retreat (the strategy endorsed by the scientific community). My guess is that we’ll do everything possible to avoid addressing the issue in a responsible and effective manner.

Delaware sea level response report

Note added at republishing: This post covers an older report. Since the date of publication water level rise forecasts have been revised upwards.

Delaware’s comprehensive sea level rise risk assessment report confirms that long term strategic retreat from low-lying coastal areas is the most likely response to water level rises expected to continue for coming decades.

Key findings of the report are:

– a water level rise of 1.6 to 4.9 ft. is considered likely by 2100

– Up to 10% of the state will be permanently flooded

– Up to 75% of specifically named towns will be permanently flooded

– Public safety will be at risk; fire and emergency stations, police stations, and evacuation routes will be flooded

– Public health may be at risk by the thousands of septic tanks, wastewater pumping stations and treatment facilities that will be flooded.

– Revenue from tourism is at risk and local governments will face increased funding needs for maintenance or repair of shore points.

 

Download the Assessment
Full Document (5 MB)
Executive Summary
Introductory Sections (5 MB)
Natural Resources
Society & Economy
Public Safety & Infrastructure
Mapping Appendix (37 MB)
Introduction
Maps – Natural Resources (8.5 MB)
Maps – Society & Economy (6MB)
Maps – Public Safety & Infrastructure (13 MB)

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

Note added at republishing: This is a review of an older 2012 article explaining the ‘hotspot’ phenomena. Since then, the forecasts of water level rise were revised upwards by Rutgers and others.

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 communities(1). 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 Survey(2) 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 Guard(3) to amplify their message that “ignorance of science is not going to be a defense that politicians can wield for much longer”(4).


1 This topic is important 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. The Money Island, NJ community is now being evacuated becasue 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

The language of climate change at the bayshore

My work involves speaking with a wide range of people about observations in nature. I am clear that this is the largest issue affecting our lives, our community’s future and our society but this ‘heavy stuff’ is of course not the message of day-to-day communications. More likely, I get questions like “Why are the fish coming in later?” or “Why can’t I get a building permit?” These are not simple topics to discuss. Like many others in a similar position, I struggle to find the right words to use to communicate the extent of what I observe on a day-to-day basis here at the bayshore. I’ve had more formal training is science in general, and climate science in particular, than most people. Some call it indoctrination. I call it command of facts. But that’s not necessarily an advantage when it comes to leadership. A leader must engage a wide community group base but how is this possible on the issue of climate?

When I think about local media coverage like last June’s front page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer where I was one of several intelligent, educated and well-informed business owners (I know them all pretty well since this is such a small community) who deal with climate issues on a day-to-day basis at the core of their businesses. The writer chose to give more print and apparently did not make any attempt to fact check the statements of the local mayor who said “There is no sea-level rise, and it’s a bunch of hogwash”. The mayor admits that he has no training in science or climate issues. Yet his statement as given more prominence that the considerable better-informed sources. Why would a major newspaper allow this? Would they have printed the story the same if the mayor said the earth is flat or that the planet was created 5,000 years ago? If not, then what possible basis are we using to justify the public expression of these unchallenged false climate statements? This is just one example. I am also aware of a local book writer whose work in progress seems to give credence to climate deniers.

I know that certain words trigger an angry response, can cause our businesses to lose customers and may even cause us to lose government infrastructure funding. I’ve been physically assaulted and verbally threatened for my talk about climate-related issues. Yet I’ve been clear that climate denial is not a logically or legally defensible position. In fact I would be willing to be a witness for the prosecution in future cases that challenge climate change deniers.

In our local market dominated by trumpist thinking, even mention of the term “climate change” in print sets off angry responses. Other words like “strategic retreat”, “inundation”, “sea level rise”, “fact”, and even “science” itself are controversial.

So how then do I talk about the things I see and the things I can’t explain without an understanding of climate issues? It his latest book Thomas Friedman1 offers some suggestions from his conversations with Greenlanders:

“Just a few years ago,… but then something changed…”

“Wow, I’ve never seen that before…”

“Well, usually, but now I don’t know anymore…”

“We haven’t seen something like that since…”

That’s all climate-speak—“surpassing,” “highest,” “record,” “broken,” “biggest,” “longest.”

The fact is that the impact of climate change, acidification, sea level rise and warming temperatures affect me and my industry more than anything else. It would be nice to be able to talk about it.


1Friedman, Thomas L.. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (p. 162). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.