Could climate change force Naval Academy to relocate? Retired Navy commander reviews the evidence

Floodwaters from Isabel in 2003 swamped Chauvenet and Michelson Hall lab deck corridor at the Naval Academy caused millions of dollars in damages. Parts of the academy are prone to flooding from sea level rise as well as storms.

Recent climate change models and new evidence of accelerated warming may have fatal consequences for the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Scientists predict that rising sea levels and intense storms will inundate the land it has occupied since 1845. Lacking action now, climate change could force the Navy to relocate the Academy by 2100, according to a review of existing scientific and government reports by retired Navy Cmdr. Pat Patterson in the October edition of Proceedings, an Annapolis based magazine published by the U.S. Naval Institute.


The article appeared just two weeks before floodwaters rose over streets in downtown Annapolis Saturday, prompting the early closing of the United States Sailboat show.

A combination of seasonal high tides, a full moon and a tropical storm stalled off the eastern seaboard have caused flooding in downtown Annapolis Saturday, leading city officials to close Spa Creek Bridge and Compromise Street, among other streets, city officials said.


By Sunday, flooding had eased on all except Dock Street and the show opened for normal hours. It continues through Saturday.

In the Proceedings article, Patterson wrote that the academy is only one of scores of U.S. military bases that may be swallowed by rising seas. Even with growing recognition of the problem and a new sense of urgency among U.S. policymakers, there already are too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to reverse the gradual warming of the planet, he found.

Patterson is a professor at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., a 1989 graduate of the Naval Academy and a former instructor in the academy History Department.

Maps show how the Naval Academy could lose land to sea level rise by 2100.

His heavily footnoted review, “Climate Change is Coming for Annapolis,” is listed as a “call for action.”

“It could get worse,” he wrote. “The West Antarctic Ice Sheet will collapse into the ocean, raising sea levels by another 10 feet, unless action is taken soon. In the 2018 USGRP report, federal science agencies warned that if the Greenland Ice Sheet melts, it will create an additional 20 feet of sea rise.”

Here’s a summary of his article, excerpted with permission from Proceedings. To read the full article, visit

The Earth already has warmed more than 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century. According to the “Fourth National Climate Change” assessment produced by the U.S. government, if nations continue to burn fossil fuels at the current rate, the planet may warm as much as nine degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Rising temperatures mean polar ice caps, glaciers, and ice fields in Greenland and Antarctica will continue to melt. This, in turn, will raise sea levels to dangerous levels.


In addition, the pace of climate change is accelerating. In 2007, for example, scientists predicted the Arctic would be free of summer sea ice by 2100. In 2009, they moved it up to 2040. As of December, scientists believe the Arctic will be free of summer ice by 2030.

In 2017, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warned that the chances of sea-level rise from 6 to 9 feet “may be more likely than previously thought” and recommended revising the worst-case scenario to more than eight feet by 2100.

The National Climate Assessment report mirrors evidence by a global alliance of scientists who have combined forces to address the problem. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — an intergovernmental body of the United Nations dedicated to providing an objective, scientific view of climate change — reported in October 2018 that the world is racing toward a temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit much faster than previously predicted.

Flooding along City Dock on Saturday caused several street closures. City officials said a myriad of factors, including a stalled coastal storm and high tides, led to flooding.

On Nov. 23, the U.S. Global Research Program — a federal program mandated by Congress to facilitate federal agency coordination on issues such as climate change — published the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which warns of a large-scale, worldwide environmental disaster.

Agencies involved in the program, led by NOAA, reported rapidly deteriorating environmental conditions related to climate change: massive, uncontrollable forest fires; hyper-powerful hurricanes; devastating droughts; and suffocating heat waves. The long-term consequences could be catastrophic.

Surrounded by water on three sides, the Naval Academy is especially vulnerable to sea rise. The Severn River runs along the east, Spa Creek extends to the south, and College Creek runs along the north. Parts of the Academy adjacent to the water stand just over 3 feet above the waterline.


Sea levels around Annapolis have risen about 1 foot over the past 100 years, according to information published by the state of Maryland.

While sea rise in the next few decades depends on a number of factors — mankind’s ability to reduce greenhouse gases, advances in renewable energy technology, the rate of ice melt in Antarctica — it could rise as much as 8 feet by 2100.6

The academy and Annapolis already are experiencing the effects of climate change. Annapolis has seen the highest increased rate of coastal flooding in the United States.

In 2018, the downtown area flooded about once a week from high tides, threatening businesses along the City Dock and Market Street. Next door, the academy also sees evidence of rising water. Low-lying areas adjacent to College Creek frequently are closed by high water.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that has warned of the effects of global warming for years, these areas will flood daily rather than weekly by 2050.8

In response, the Navy and academy staff have gone on the offensive. In 2015, they formed the Sea Level Rise Advisory Council to create an adaptation plan and make decisions about flood-related matters. Currently, academy staff are installing door dams and flood barriers on doorways, repairing seawalls, and installing back-flow preventers in storm drain systems to reduce flooding. Newly constructed buildings, such as Hopper Hall, will have elevated entrances and limited first-floor openings to keep out rising water.


The biggest preventive measure the academy will take is improving the seawall that extends around three-quarters of the yard’s perimeter. Academy leaders plan to strengthen existing portions and construct a two- to four-foot extension on top of the existing seawall that can be raised as conditions worsen. Construction will begin in fiscal 2020.

As seawater also can creep up through saturated soil, the wall will be buried below the surface. To permit access to sailing vessels and crew rowing shells, personnel and vehicle entrances will be built into certain areas along the lower yard perimeter wall.

Capital Gazette staff writer Brooks Dubose contributed to this story with information on flooding Saturday in Annapolis.