Rising Seas in a Warming World
Coastal Processes & Hazards - News

January 26, 2009, Stony Brook, NY - It might be difficult to think about Earth’s warming with snow on the ground and temperatures hovering around freezing, but climate change is much more than global warming. It’s a complex scenario with few sound bytes.

In two articles (linked in the “Related Info” sidebar to the right), New York Sea Grant’s Coastal Expert Jay Tanski puts climate change in perspective, in the context of how it is and may continue to influence sea level rise and flooding due to storm surges specific to Long Island’s north and south shores.

In “Storms and Climate Change in Long Island Sound,” a Spring 2008 Sound Update article written by Tanski and Malcolm Bowman, a researcher at Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Tanski writes, “Many people are concerned about the impact global climate change may have on storms in Long Island Sound. While evidence for global warming is strong, how this warming may impact other phenomena like storms is much less certain.”

Though the exact effect of climate change on storms remains uncertain, Tanski says, “While global warming isn’t going to create any new problems in terms of coastal erosion and flooding, it will exacerbate problems we are already facing.” The weather and climate may become more variable, which will make it more difficult to plan.

Does sea level rise also pose a threat to Long Island’s coasts? In “Sea Level Rise and the Future,” a selection from the 27-page Long Island’s Dynamic South Shore, Tanski explains that although there is a good deal of uncertainty regarding future projections, some predictions suggest the rate of sea level rise may double over the next 100 years, resulting in water levels that are about a foot higher than present 50 years from now. However, during the surge caused by a major storm, water levels can rise four to six feet or more above normal in just a few hours. While the effects of sea level rise are difficult to quantify, flooding due to storm surges is a more immediate concern.

 “An increasing sea level means we will be faced with erosion problems for the foreseeable future,” says Tanski. “From a planning perspective of 30 to 50 years, the biggest impact of an increased rate of relative sea level rise will be the submergence of the flat, low lying areas around the bays on [Long Island’s] south shore. Communities in these areas could be subject to increased flooding.”

These issues are, as Tanski says, of global concern, a belief mirrored by New York Governor David A. Paterson who, in his State of the State speech earlier this month, addressed global warming by calling for one of the most ambitious clean energy plans in the nation. “Global warming is one of the most significant environmental and economic issues of our generation,” he said.

And in the even bigger picture, U.S. President Barack Obama’s agenda on “Energy and the Environment” calls for a long-term goal to reduce our country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, an ambitious effort that would make the U.S. a leader on climate change. “We are the keepers of this legacy,” said Obama during his inauguration speech. “We'll work tirelessly to … roll back the specter of a warming planet.”

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