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Downe Township in the center of sea level rise "hot spot"

Review of the Nature.com article “Hotspot of accelerated sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast of North America” and its implications on Downe Township, NJ

by Tony Novak

For years, communities along the mid-Atlantic seacoast of the United States have been seriously impacted by sea level rise (SLR). Governments and individual residents in this region are financially and politically consumed by the demands of battling the effects of storms and erosion. The observed affects since the 1990s have far exceeded what would have been attributable to common presumptions about global SLR related to global climate change. 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, it was not widely considered that climate warming could have different effects on SLR at different times 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 recent rate of SLR in the North Atlantic coast has been 3 to 4 times the global average and that the trend is accelerating. Portions of the highly populated middle Atlantic region from Norfolk, VA to Boston, MA, referred to as the “hotbed”, 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.  


Footnotes

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 condemned and destroyed. The Money Island NJ community is considered to be one the next likely victims of sea level rise.

2 Published online 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 http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3256&from=rss_home#.UIQ_Y8XA-Sq