Alarming recent reports are suggesting that the rise in sea levels could threaten over $40bn worth of national infrastructure and natural assets, providing further evidence of the economic threat that global warming provides. Across the country with sites ranging from the Boston National Historic Park, the Recreation Area in New York City to Golden Gate National Recreation – and many more in-between – policy makers are increasingly vocal in the need to act soon to minimize the potential damage that these historic sites are facing.
The threat posed by rising sea levels towards such places is nothing new – it has always been a closely monitored facet of the day-to-day operations of such sites. However rather than occasional ‘flash in the pan’ events that pass quickly with typically little remedial damage, scientists are confidently predicting a 1m rise in sea level across the board over the next 100 years. It may not sound much, but the very real potential ramifications for these sites could in fact threaten their very existence.
To give an example of why this 1m rise could be so devastating, let’s think back to the Hurricane Sandy event in 2012. Large storms such as Sandy will in future become considerably more damaging as they will have this extra mass of water to threaten infrastructure such as bridges, roads, museums, lighthouses, coastal defences, and all such services and sites essential to the operation of these national parks.
It’s currently thought that around 40 major coastal parks are in the high threat level, with total assets at long term risk mounting to this $40bn figure. If storms the size of Sandy and beyond become more regular and damaging, it will – in the long term – pay to gradually relocate and rebuild these assets in higher ground and more suitable locations, rather than fit a large regular series of bills for substantial repair.
The timescale in these predicted rises depends upon a multitude of factors, not least geographical location and also how effective carbon emissions reduction policy proves to be over the next few decades. For example to compare Alaska – where sea level is proportionately declining as glaciers melt, and consequently are raising the land altitude – to Cape Canaveral where a predicted raise of up to 50 inches is expected in the next fifty years – shows the divergence of sites where policy need to be most directed.
What is sure however is that a degree of contingency planning is the very least required is these sites are to be preserved and enjoyed in their current form by future generations.