Sunday, August 19, 2012

Climate change puts US Atlantic coastline in cross hairs

Jeff Montgomery and Molly Murray in the News Journal (Delaware):  Shorelines from North Carolina to Boston are in a 'hotspot' for sea-level rise and will see water levels rise at double the rate of most places on the planet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The doubling is largely because of a geologic double whammy. The treasured lifestyle of residents along the coasts of the Mid-Atlantic could significantly change by the time this year's high school graduates retire, scientists say.

The larger issue for taxpayers is where to spend money and energy attempting to hold back the ocean — and where to retreat and allow nature to take its course.

...Along the Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey coasts, sea levels could rise faster and higher — nearly 1.5 feet by 2050 and 3.5 to nearly 5 feet by the end of the century, according to Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and other federal and science agency reports. That could swamp tens of thousands of homes and businesses along the coasts and jeopardize big chunks of land along Maryland's fragile Chesapeake Bay.

With a higher ocean, saltier water would push farther upstream, especially in summertime and drought years, making it harder to dilute for public consumption. Water supplies for communities along the Delaware River to Philadelphia could be threatened.

Delaware is "extremely vulnerable," said Collin P. O'Mara, secretary of Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. It may be worse along the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

...Like Maryland, Delaware has barrier beaches along the Atlantic that take a pounding. But the First State also faces a different challenge along Delaware Bay, where farm fields and homes are already being lost to encroaching brine water, and inland residents find themselves inside newly widened floodplains....

Satellite picture (via NASA) of Chesapeake Bay (center) and Delaware Bay (upper right), on the central east coast of the United States.

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