By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
Graphics created by Dr. Kristina Dahl, Senior Climate Scientist, Union of Concerned Citizens
“There are two main causes of Sea Level Rise,” said Dr. Kristina Dahl during a presentation to an Our World Lecture Series audience of approximately 120 at Kiawah’s Municipal Center on February 14.
The speaker from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) told attendees, climatologists have measured an aggregate increase of 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in temperatures since the 80s.
Everything expands when heated, including the ocean. Just add water from melting land ice in Greenland and the Arctic, and you transform the climate change/global warming debate from the abstract to an observable fact of life along the coast.
The arc of Dahl’s education culminated in a Paleo-climatology PhD. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dahl said she had always assumed a career in academics was on her horizon, but ultimately chose UCS because the organization’s penchant for applying science meant making a difference. Albert Einstein once observed, “If you can’t explain something simply, you simply don’t understand it.” Dahl has the knack, which makes her the perfect candidate to corroborate a recent study of sea level rise by the like-named committee on Kiawah.
Riding past the debate over the causes of rising temperatures, Dahl stuck with its effects. SLR in the Charleston area has increased over 5 inches since 1970. If it continues trending along the same lines, it
will result in “nuisance/chronic” flooding during king tides and/or rain events defined as occurring 26+ times/year, and will impact a total of 11% (200) of the homes on Kiawah and Seabrook by 2035.
The figures use projections extracted from the “intermediate” list of probabilities (e.g. 2nd lowest) and the picture gets worse over time, effecting 40% of homes by 2060, 70% by 2018, and 90% by 2100.
The effects of SLR on real estate values is another component of science being applied in a way that resonates. The same “intermediate” model displays the loss of nearly $200 million in property values on Kiawah/Seabrook by 2035, and over $1 trillion in losses by 2060. The accompanying blow to the local tax base from forfeited tax revenues precipitated by the losses means municipalities will quickly lose funding sources needed to combat the threat.
Asked in an interview if real estate values would be better off in municipalities that masked/denied the issue, Dahl expressed a preference for those that addressed the problem head on. Miami Beach, Florida, for example, plans to invest $500 million to shore up infrastructure. She added that drooping land mass is also contributing to the problem.
“Much of North America was covered in glaciers… The land sagged beneath the weight of the ice mass, because they were so heavy, and now it’s adjusting. It sprang back – it’s like a spring [finding its center] after stretching back and forth,” said Dahl.
The question of adding soil comes into focus, especially as it relates to the marshes surrounding Kiawah and Seabrook.
Marshes need room to migrate and can’t be restricted without killing them off and exacerbating the problem that adding fill was intended to solve. This point was emphasized by Kiawah’s SLR Committee report.
Dahl indulged the question about her focus on the effects of warmer temperatures, instead of its causes.
She said the causes are no longer debated in the scientific community, and said there are three primary factors driving SLR:
- Carbon emissions – oil, coal, and gas,
- Agricultural practices – focus on raising animals,
- Deforestation – crippling the solution for removing CO2.
“Our models take things like volcanoes, solar variability, etc. into account, but when you take people out of the equation, it just doesn’t work. There’s no explanation for the increase in temperatures. But if talking about cars is going to prevent your community from moving forward or confuses the issue, don’t do it… There’s no longer any debate on causes in the scientific community, and I wasn’t sure about Kiawah. We don’t debate the causes so we don’t focus on them, and talking about the effects helps get everyone out of their political silos. So let’s start here, talk about what’s happening and what we can do about it,” said Dahl.
Another benefit of applied science is making SLR models available to the public. You don’t have to wait until the water is in the garage next time to witness the effects of SLR on you personally. You can visit UCSUSA.org/RisingSeasHitHome to see exactly how present and future flooding will affect you. There is also a model available, which incorporates home values across time and over wider geographies UCSUSA.org/Underwater.
The Island Connection previously reported the findings of the SLR Committee. To summarize, the group of decorated academics worked for a year and a half on their own report. It incorporates similar studies done by UCS and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The study also cross examines the studies of their peers, and provides long lists of possible mitigation measures.
For even more information see the work of the SLR committee for yourself, KiawahIsland.org/departments/ environmental/floodandsealevelrise/