Study: Naval Academy could face over 6 feet of sea level rise by 2100

Maps show how the Naval Academy could lose land to sea level rise by 2100.
Maps show how the Naval Academy could lose land to sea level rise by 2100. (Courtesy of Union of Concerned Scientists)

High tides could flood Naval Academy fixtures like Bancroft Hall on a daily basis by 2100, according to a study on sea level rise released today.

"Military bases and personnel protect the country from external threats," the report states. "With rising seas, they find themselves on an unanticipated front line."


The paper, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists — a nonprofit research organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts — reviewed the impacts of rising seas on 18 military installations.

It states the academy can expect more frequent and extensive tidal flooding, intensified storm-driven flooding and loss of land.


Researchers considered "intermediate" and "highest" scenarios, based on potential melting rates of polar ice sheets, to predict possible water levels, the report states. They estimate between 4 and 6 1/2 feet of sea level rise at the academy by 2100.

Annapolis is one of the cities being considered to house a nonprofit studying rising sea levels and its effects.

The institution stands to lose 10 percent of its land this century with the intermediate prediction and almost 40 percent with the highest scenario, said Senior Climate Analyst Erika Spanger-Siegfried.

"There are sites — eight out of our 18 — that face greater land losses," she said. "Nevertheless, we consider the Naval Academy at significant risk because it is a comparatively small installation where basically all of the affected land is developed and currently utilized."

The academy formed a Sea Level Advisory Council last year to provide analysis, guidance and recommendations to the superintendent and senior leadership. Officials are working with the city of Annapolis to evaluate sea level rise projections and formulate a plan, said Cmdr. John Schofield, an academy spokesman.

Sara Phillips, an academy architect, said at a Board of Visitors meeting in March that officials have already installed dams on low-lying doors and window openings in several academy buildings and parts of Bancroft Hall.

Because of those improvements, she said the academy feels better protected than it did before 2003, when Hurricane Isabel flooded classrooms and caused $105 million worth of damage.

"However we're recognizing that as we start to look at sea level rise, these types of solutions are great for short duration types of events," she said. "It doesn't begin to address the problems that sea level rise will bring to the campus."

Phillips declined to comment for this article.

Lisa Craig, the chief of historic preservation for Annapolis, said sea level rise has forced the city to consider elevating or moving buildings away from the shoreline, a task that becomes even more difficult when structures are historically protected.

With funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the city is developing a mitigation plan to be released in August 2017. Because the academy is on federal property, the city does not have decision-making power over the institution, but Craig said officials are "developing jointly beneficial adaptation strategies."

Oceanographer John Englander, who is considering opening a sea level rise research institute in Annapolis, said the academy should take the recent study's findings into consideration but should prepare for even more tidal flooding.

"Whether repairing or building something new, we need to realize it's going to get higher and higher," he said. "We can't predict and then act. We need to consider extreme scenarios."

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