Rising sea level threatens Mid-Atlantic coast

The Inner Harbor flooded in the wake of Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003. With sea level projected to rise 1.5 feet by 2050 and 3.5 to 5 feet by century's end, coastal communities face costly and difficult choices. (August 20, 2012)

Sea level rise along the mid-Atlantic coast made headlines over the weekend, as Gannett newspapers on the Delmarva Peninsula and in New Jersey launched a series of stories examining how climate change could swamp shorefront homes and resort communities, hamper farming and even contaminate municipal water supplies.

Scientists say the Atlantic coast from around Boston to North Carolina is in a "hot zone" where sea level is expected to rise even faster than elsewhere as a result of the planet's warming and related changes in ocean currents. Increases are predicted in sea level of 1.5 feet by 2050 and 3.5 to 5 feet by century's end, according to state and federal science surveys and report cited by the papers.

The Wilmington News Journal took the lead in reporting the issue, with Gannett papers in Salisbury and Asbury Park NJ adding in local angles on impacts in their states.  Stories touched on Ocean City, the Delaware beaches, Chesapeake and Delaware bays and all the inland and coastal bays.  Delaware and the Eastern Shore, because they are so low-lying, are particularly vulnerable, the stories note.

The Wilmington paper is holding a public forum on the topic at 7 p.m. Tuesday night (8/21) in Fenwick Island, Del. (just up the road from Ocean City).  Featured speakers include former Maryland Rep. Wayne Gilchrest.  For more, go here.

Closer to Baltimore, a survey of Anne Arundel County residents shows that while a majority believe sea level rise is occurring and that coastal flooding has become more of a problem in recent years, more than a third thought the rising waters were solely a result of natural cycles.  Most, it seems, don't think it has anything to do with human activity releasing climate-altering greenhouse gases.

The survey was done by Future Coast, an initiative of George Mason University, and funded by the Mid-Atlantic Sea Grant program.

However conflicted Anne Arundel residents may feel about the causes of sea level rise and how quickly it may affect their communities, the survey suggests county residents strongly support long-range planning to deal with it, along with regulatory changes and tax incentives to property owners to reduce their risk.  They favored maintaining beaches and wetlands, protecting low-and high-density developed areas, moving structures inland and retrofitting others to be more flood-resistant.  They're more divided on whether to armor the shoreline.

Future Coast is planning a briefing and public discussion of its survey findings on Sept. 12 at 7 pm. at the Severna Park Library, 45 W. McKinsey Road.  For more info, go to www.futurecoast.info