Monday, March 15, 2010

Sea-level rise threatens Prime Hook Refuge

Ron Macarthur in the Cape Gazette (Delaware): Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most unique ecosystems on the East Coast, faces an uncertain future. Damage from a series of storms and sea-level rise threaten to change the delicate natural balance forever in the refuge and nearby Primehook Beach. This is the third in a series which explores the problems facing the refuge and analyzes possible solutions aimed at stemming the inevitable tide.

In a recent visit to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Tom Alvarez was shocked to see how much beach and marsh have been lost. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffer from Massachusetts had not been to the area for more than 30 years. “In their lifetime people living there will see a progressive change. I saw it immediately. You expect changes, but you don’t expect the landscape to change so dramatically,” he said.

Gradual change could accelerate if current predictions of sea-level rise come to fruition. Some scientists predict that in as little as 75 to 90 years, large sections of the refuge – which today serves as a critical stopover point for an estimated 1 million migrating birds each year – could be under water.

If Delaware Bay water rises one-eighth inch per year, by 2100, sea-level rise would essentially wipe out more than half of the marshland, according to a model developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, known as the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM). Alvarez said the threat to Prime Hook and Bombay Hook refuges have placed them among his agency’s top five areas of concern nationally for sea-level rise and climate-change implications.

Today, the refuge is 15 percent open water, 47 percent marshland, and the remaining 38 percent is uplands and forested wetlands. A rise of 1.6 feet would leave the refuge about 65 percent open water and 21 percent marshland, leaving only about 14 percent as uplands and forested wetlands….

Snow geese at the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, from the refuge's website

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