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Murky and Rising Coastal Waters -- How Are We Affected and What Can We Do?

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Message Arshad M Khan
 

This article is jointly authored with Meena Miriam Yust

It might be difficult to ascertain precisely the extent of harm to the environment from Trump's policies; that he has damaged it is certain and not just from appointing David Bernhardt, a former oil and energy industry lobbyist, as the steward of US lands. The latest evidence is from a new research report.

The coastal waters by Wilmington, Delaware, the new president's home base, have risen a record 3 mm in the past year. Worse, the rate of increase is itself increasing portending a foot or more in the next century. It means a rebuilding of docks plus barriers to prevent serious tidal flooding.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS), affiliated with the College of William and Mary, has been collecting data on sea levels for the past 52 years. It released its latest annual report recently, noting sea level rising by historic amounts -- as in the case of Wilmington -- as well as the accelerating rate of increase.

There are 32 tide gauges placed along the US coasts all the way to Alaska. Maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), these measure levels every six minutes. Researchers at VIMS take a monthly average to avoid a skewed analysis due to unusual weather patterns like storms.

The Institute's report presents sea level changes, assesses future trends, and tries to explain the increases or even decreases at particular localities. Sea level changes are relative to the adjoining land. For example, the rates are actually falling in Alaska but that is caused by shifting tectonic plates raising land and off-setting the sea level rise.

Researchers describe the persistent sea level rise as a "slow emergency" -- not a storm that will be hitting tomorrow but trouble ahead and the report cards can help local authorities plan for the future.

Wetlands Watch works to preserve wetlands in Virginia's coastal areas and maintains flood maps. Rising sea level is a particular concern because it is expected to affect most of the state's coastal wetlands. Therefore in addition to policy advocacy, Wetlands Watch has developed Sea Rising Solutions, a phone app which helps in mapping out where flooding is likely.

Spreading the word about sea level rise and its consequences engages the whole community and motivates legislators and developers to adapt to the new norm and prepare ahead for a changing environment.

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Arshad M Khan is a former Professor. Educated at King's College London, Oklahoma State University and the University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. He was elected a Fellow of the (more...)
 
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