Articles Explore Maryland’s Rising Sea Level Challenge

MarylandReporter.com has published a series of 5 articles from the Capital News Service (CNS) of the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism that explore the impacts of sea level rise that is occurring and that is projected to occur on Maryland.   This article collects the entire series.

Part 1 (Published July 28) discusses Maryland’s heightened vulnerability to rising sea levels.

The Chesapeake Bay is rising at two to three times  the rate of worldwide sea levels. It rose more than a foot over the past 100  years and is expected to rise 2 to 5 feet within this century. …

Property all along Maryland’s meandering shoreline is at risk, from the  seaside mansions of Anne Arundel and Talbot counties to the modest cottages of  Somerset and Dorchester counties.

Industrial powerhouses like the Port of Baltimore, ecological treasures like  Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and historic sites like the Harriet Tubman  monument all lie in the path of rising sea levels.  …

Maryland’s  predicament is due to a troublesome combination of rising water and sinking  land.

The land in the Chesapeake region has been sinking over the past 1,000 to  2,000 years, said Raymond G. Najjar Jr., a Pennsylvania State University  oceanographer who has studied the impact of climate change on the mid-Atlantic  coast.

Called subsidence, the land has sunk 1.3 millimeters each year on average — a  trend scientists say is likely to continue at its current rate.

Part 2 (Published on July 29) highlights the challenges faced by the water front community of Crisfield and notes that while all levels of government share responsibility to address sea level rise, how communities choose to address sea level rise is a local decision.

Crisfield itself is surrounded by water on three sides. The community rests  just 3 feet above sea level — a problem if the bay rises another 2 to 5  feet.

The CNS analysis found the entire city and its surrounding neighborhoods  would be partially underwater at 2 feet; most would be underwater at 5. …

Federal, state and local governments share responsibility for addressing the  threat of sea level rise, said Ken Mallette, director of the Maryland Emergency  Management Agency.

He said his office assists with funding and guidance and could do better at  communicating with local governments. But the choice of when and how to address  sea-level rise is a local one, he said.

“It’s not a state decision. It’s a local decision. It’s an individual  decision because it not only impacts the individual, it impacts the economic  viability of that local community.”

Part 3 (Published on July 30) discusses the impacts that sea level rise and climate change could have on Baltimore City and notes that many local communities do not yet have plans to confront the issue.

[If a 2 to 5 foot sea level rise occurs] Baltimore neighborhoods would be inundated — along with the 11,700 to 13,000  houses and apartments constructed on those blocks, according to a Capital News  Service analysis. …

Sea level rise isn’t the only effect of climate change that Baltimore will  confront. Besides storms, scientists say, rising temperatures will cause a huge  strain on the city, particularly where there is little green space to relieve  the heat.

Urban heat islands — large areas of pavement absorbing heat — will affect  Baltimore in a variety of ways, from more infectious diseases carried by  mosquitoes to more strains on utilities that power air conditioning.  …

Some Baltimore government agencies have begun to consider climate change. The  Office of Sustainability was formed, within the planning department, to promote  conservation.

But five years ago, the Maryland Commission on Climate Change issued a report  urging cities and counties to “take specific action now.” So far, just four  counties and the city of Annapolis have taken advantage of a federally funded  state program to develop plans.

Part 4 (Published on July 31) discusses the impact of sea level rise on the Port of Baltimore and the increased risk of many communities due to stronger projected storm surges, such as the one that occurred following Hurricane Sandy.

The port is facing a future of more flooding.   …

Three years ago, the port administration prepared the report, “Climate Change  Vulnerability Assessment and Recommendations,” which identified the need for  infrastructure and facility improvements that deal with climate change and  rising sea levels.

The loss of any port equipment would mean a huge financial hit. In February,  the port completed construction of a new 50-foot-deep container berth at Seagirt  Marine Terminal and installed four super-sized cranes from China — at a total  cost of $40 million — equipped with anemometers that measure wind speed.

Experts are concerned, especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. …

As the weather becomes more extreme, [U.S. Naval Academy engineering instructor Cmdr. Angela] Schedel urges either abandoning the  soon-to-be dangerous locations of the [Norfolk Naval Base] and Port of Baltimore or  adapting.

But, she said, while increased elevation of roads and structures could help,  this takes money and time.

Part 5 (Published on August 1) explains the impact that rising sea levels will have on Maryland’s road system and the significant cost challenges faced by both the State and county governments to upgrade and protect vulnerable roads and bridges.

Gov. Martin O’Malley warned in December that rising sea levels over the next  century would threaten “400 miles of roadways,” when he signed an executive order making protection of billions of  dollars in state infrastructure a top priority.

That’s not the half of it. A CNS analysis shows the total impact, factoring  in county-maintained roads, could be much worse.

Maryland has more than 5,200 miles of state roads and about 21,000 miles of  county roads, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration. A CNS  analysis found that roughly 800 miles of roads would be affected if sea levels  rise another 2 feet. At 5 feet, an estimated 3,700 miles would be under  water.  …

The rising waters are expected to flood roads and weaken the foundations of  bridges, causing some bridge decks to fail, according to state reports. A 2-foot  rise in water levels would have an impact on 93 bridges, culverts and other  highway structures.  …

Elizabeth Habic, manager of the climate change program at the State Highway  Administration, said the agency has embarked on an ambitious mapping effort to  identify which state roads are vulnerable to rising sea levels, so they can  decide how to tackle the problem.

“We don’t know how to fix it yet,” she said. “We’re evaluating  solutions.”  …

In a state that just raised gas taxes to replenish its depleted  Transportation Trust Fund, finding an affordable way to address the looming  threat will be a challenge.

Where funding is in shorter supply, county road systems may be in deeper  water. A recent study found some counties less prepared than the state to  address the threat.

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