Weathering the storm
I grew up spending my summers on the Cape. When I traveled there for Thanksgiving, my family discussed the impending erosion many of their neighbors are facing. Living about one hundred yards from the beach, they joked that sooner than later they’ll own beachfront property. Extreme, yes, but unlikely, no. As sea levels rise with a changing climate, the geology of these areas change and their natural resilience to intense storms is threatened.
Imagine if your beach front “backyard” suddenly crumbled into the ocean, or the streets of your town filled with water. Imagine losing all of your belongings, photo albums and objects holding dear memories. More importantly, imagine if you were injured – or worse, a loved one or family member was killed from these natural impacts.
This is reality.
The recent one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy (October 29) came and went, but the destructive storm’s impact still lingers.
It has been argued that warming ocean temperatures contributed to the strength and impact of Sandy. As oceans warm, tropical storms and hurricanes that gather heat and energy through contact with warm ocean waters become larger and more powerful. In addition, as ocean water warms and expands, global sea levels rise. Increased melting of ice caps and glaciers also contribute to rising sea levels. Storm surge from hurricanes on top of these higher sea levels will add up to increased erosion and inundation of coastal communities. Predicting at risk areas is crucial, yet difficult, as beaches, barriers, and marshes all respond differently to warming, rising seas and storms.
Long Island Sound, part of the Connecticut River Watershed, is a perfect example of these effects. Home to an estimated 8 million people, Long Island Sound is a hotspot for heavy storm damage, due to high storm surge flooding, coastal erosion and rising sea levels.. Scientists expect a sea level rise of approximately 4 feet or more by 2100 in this area. Coastal resilience tools have estimated billion dollar coasts in damages and interrupted business if preventative tools are not implemented.
Most communities in the United States were built based on past rather than future trends. But, as storms like Hurricane Sandy devastate communities once thought to be safe, science is playing a key role in informing measures to protect human communities and help people and nature weather the storm.
The North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC), Northeast Climate Science Center and U.S. Geological Survey have joined forces on an effort to identify areas along the Atlantic Coast likely to be affected by stronger storms and rising sea levels and areas likely to be the most resilient. Mapping these areas will help inform better management decisions, ranging from preventative action to protection during a storm event. It is likely that more storms like Sandy are heading this way, so it only makes sense to learn from past experiences and plan for the future.
Destinations like Cape Cod and Long Island are bound to change. Residents are likely to see their backyards disappearing and the walk to the beach becoming shorter, some areas sooner than others. The question is not IF anymore, but when.
Our job now is to adapt, plan, and prevent.