Sea level rise
poses a daunting challenge for our nation’s densely developed beaches, barrier islands, and shoreline infrastructure, not to mention fragile coastal ecosystems. Sea level rise as an effect of climate change is a virtual certainty, says Dr. Jason Evans
of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government
at the University of Georgia, with experts predicting that sea levels will rise somewhere in the range of 0.2 to 2 meters by the year 2100. The two main factors driving this are the addition of water to the oceans as glacial and sea ice melt
and the expansion of ocean waters as they warm, says Evans.
Beautiful yet fragile coastal ecosystem.
Evans recently spoke at the University of Georgia about planning for sea level rise, using the Sea Grant Community Climate Adaptation Initiative’s project in Tybee Island, Ga.,
as a case study. Georgia is one of the states most vulnerable to sea level rise. According to models, much of Tybee Island, a barrier island near Savannah with 3,000 year-round residents and another 2,000 part-time residents, will be inundated as sea levels rise, with former marshlands that have been developed being particularly vulnerable. Projected impacts of sea level rise on Tybee, as on other coastal areas, include flooding, saltwater intrusion into the water system, damage to infrastructure, wastewater, and septic systems, and coastal erosion. Tybee is already experiencing periodic “king tides,” noted Evans, which cause flooding and overwhelm the existing stormwater management system.
Through the Tybee Island Climate Adaptation Project, Evans and others involved in the project have run simulations and conducted research related to the impacts of sea level rise to identify possible adaptations that the city of Tybee Island could pursue. These include building infrastructure like seawalls to defend the city against sea level rise, altering zoning codes so that homes and developments are located farther from beaches and marshes, enhancing the island’s stormwater management infrastructure, and/or elevating the main traffic artery so it is at less risk of flooding.
Options have been presented to local government officials and residents for discussion. Some approaches, such as building seawalls and levees, are expensive and thus difficult to implement in the short term, while others pose challenges to adoption because they require revision of existing policies or zoning codes, for example, and necessitate political will and widespread community buy-in. It remains to be seen what approach the community of Tybee Island will choose and what actions city leaders will take.
The Tybee Island Climate Adaptation Project and overarching Sea Grant Community Climate Adaptation Initiative are proactive approaches to planning for sea level rise, facilitate long-term thinking, and can serve as a model for the state of Georgia and other coastal regions in preparing for a likely effect of climate change. A pragmatic approach to generating innovative and local solutions to a global challenge, these projects provide a framework for action to ensure our coastal environments, on Tybee Island and elsewhere, are resilient in the future.
Related on MNN: