Sea Level Rise Risk Assessment for DoD Coastal Installations.

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Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program


Given current controversy regarding observed sea level rise in the 20th century, it is not surprising that there is a wide range of predictions of sea level rise for the 21st century. Future sea level rise consists of contributions from continued warming of the ocean as well as melting of glaciers, small ice sheets and Greenland. Installation natural and cultural resources and operations managers would like a particular value of sea level rise to be associated with a specific probability of occurrence. It is important to note that the main cause of uncertainty prior to about 2050 is caused by the lack of agreement on the processes that cause ice sheet melt and associated dramatic increases in sea level rise. Because of the thermal inertia of the oceans, there is little difference in the various sea level rise projections before about 2050, after which different rates of warming due to different projections of future greenhouse concentrations result in large differences in sea level rise. We conducted risk assessments of natural, cultural, and operational resources at risk in five coastal DoD installations in North Carolina (Air Force Dare County Bombing Range, Marine Corps Air Station and Naval Aviation Depot Cherry Point, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, and Navy Harvey Point).


The consensus of the international scientific community is that future sea-level rise based on climate model output will result in an increase in global eustatic sea-level of between 0.5-3.1 feet by 2100, with a "best estimate" of 1.6 feet. This is more than double the rate of eustatic (global sea level) rise for the past century. These sea level rise projections were recently updated in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which reported a 0.9 to 1.4 feet rise in sea level by 2100. Uncertainty in ice-sheet decay models has some scientists calling the estimate “conservative”. A report in the January 2007 issue of Science calls for a 1.6 to 4.6 foot increase in sea level rise by 2100. Coastal North Carolina has been identified as one of the United States most vulnerable regions to climate change. More than 2,000 square miles of North Carolina’s coastal ecosystems and urban areas are below one- meter elevation and within the range of projected sea level rise from climate change for the year 2100. Recent studies have demonstrated that, as climate change contributes to inundation, increased shoreline erosion and higher hurricane intensity, coastal DoD installations may experience significant losses in the absence of mitigation and local adaptation.


Sea level rise, risk assessment, coastal resilience


Mickler RA, Welch D. Sea Level Rise Risk Assessment for DoD Coastal Installations. Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Arlington, VA, USA. 2009.