National Park Service sounds alarm on dramatically rising sea levels

Fort Point National Historic Site and the Golden Gate Bridge, California. (Maria Caffrey, University of Colorado, via the National Park Service)

(Courthouse News Service) – The National Park Service predicted in a new study that sea levels will rise up to two feet before the end of this century, jeopardizing America’s coastal national parks and monuments.

Decorated with photos of the Redwood National Park and the Fort Point National Historic Site, both in California, the 90-page report emphasizes that a full quarter of locations managed by the National Park Service are near the coast.

The Outer Banks in North Carolina will see the most sea level rise in the country, the report says.

Meanwhile in the Low Country of Georgia, the Fort Pulaski National Monument is also at risk. A graph of tide levels at the historic fortification and prisoner-of-war camp notes that water levels have risen about one foot per century.

At the University of Georgia, meanwhile, professor Clark Alexander pointed to reports that sea levels will rise up to four feet by the end of the century.

To prevent the erosion and ultimate loss of America’s low-lying, coastal federal and state historic sites, Alexander said steps must be “taken now to increase their resilience to rising seas and stronger storms, both a result of increasing global temperatures.”

Professor Alexander is the director of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

The Park Service’s report emphasizes that parks will see different outcomes in different parts of the country.

“The coastline near Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, for example, is likely to experience faster rates of relative sea level rise due to high rates of subsidence,” the report states. “Conversely, most Alaskan parks are expected to see continued falling of relative sea level as the post-glacial land mass rebounds from the loss of heavy, land-based ice.”

Park officials call it crucial, given these variabilities, to perform more detailed analysis of each location to see potential effects of the sea level rise and storm surge.

While all coastal parks will likely struggle with changing sea levels and storm surges, coastal areas will experience the sea level change differently because of the “variable nature of ocean currents, topography of the coast, and the influence of localized changes in land elevation.”

The report also notes that storm and hurricane flooding will exacerbate the issue of coastal inundation. Recent damage from the storms Sandy, Matthew, and Harvey/Irma/Maria underline the need to understand the changes happening along American coastlines.

“Taking stock of trends in sea level change is a necessary precursor to identifying future vulnerabilities and managing risk responsibly,” the report says. “When coupled with earlier work examining infrastructure at risk along the coast, the results of this study can help identify vulnerabilities, prioritize management action, and guide public investments in sustainable projects.”

Representatives for the Park Service did not provide comment by press time.