Rising sea levels and changing storm patterns give a glimpse into a changing coastal environment
Sea level rise as a result of climate change is poised to drastically change the shoreline of the Mastic peninsula in the next century, or sooner, according to experts from the Nature Conservancy.
Alison Branco, coastal director for the nonprofit, presented scientific findings specific to the area to members of the Pattersquash Creek Civic Association earlier this week. She presented the problems that residents are facing, as well as some possible solutions going forward that the community could use.
One of the side effects of sea level rise is flooding, which many shorefront residents see often. Based on a study, sea level is projected to rise between two and seven feet in the years 2000 to 2100, compared to one foot from 1900 to 2000. Sea level rise makes coastal storms worse and causes chronic flooding, Branco said. It’s caused by the warming of the earth, which makes the ocean expand and polar ice caps melt. And when the sea level rises, it causes groundwater to rise also, at about the same rate.
Chronic flooding can create headaches in the home, as it can cause water damage to the foundation or furnishings inside, or sprout mold and create other issues. It also creates roadway hazards, as homeowners are unable to reach their driveway during high tides or storms.
Humans do have an impact on the effects of climate change, Branco said, which is the reason for the large window of possibility for sea level in the next 100 years. There are basically two options to deal with the growing issues: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation would be to attack the problem at the source by using renewable energy, reducing emissions, and recycling, for example. To adapt would be to raise homes, change infrastructure, or alter the coastline. The most popular solution for homeowners who want to remain in their community is to raise their home to prevent water from reaching the bottom. Residents complained of water coming up from the ground directly or through storm drains. As the sea level rises, Branco said there are fewer places for excess water to go, which creates the flooding issues.
An important step in preventing flooding is to allow wetlands to naturally develop, Branco said. According to nonprofit Coastal Resilience, wetlands protect coastal water quality by filtering land-derived nutrients and contaminants; they are an important component of the coastal food web; they provide valuable wildlife habitat; and they protect upland and shoreline areas from flooding and erosion associated with storms.
Climate words to know
Mitigation: Actions that address the root cause of climate change, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and using renewable energy.
Adaptation: Actions that seek to lower the risks posed by the consequences of climate change, like elevating a building.