In a report released last week, the Environmental Protection Agency, US Geological Survey and other federal agencies concluded that rising sea levels triggered by global warming threatens coastal wetlands and barrier islands and in the Middle Atlantic States.
The report said the rate of rise in sea level is accelerating in part because of melting ice sheets and glaciers, and also because warmer water takes up more space.
Middle Atlantic States are especially at risk because much of their infrastructure has been placed at or near sea level and because the area is hit frequently by major storms.
The report, available here, mentions that in the last century, coastal erosion occurred at between 2.4 and 4.4 millimeters per year, or roughly one foot for the 100 year period. But “it is virtually certain,” according to the report, that the pace of this erosion will double in the 21st century.
Barrier islands, coastal waterways and spits are unlikely to withstand this sea rise. “It is likely that some barrier islands in this region will cross a threshold,” and start disintegrating, according to the report, which mentioned in particular the islands of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
The report’s prediction of rising sea levels supports an earlier prediction by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-based initiative. The Panel believes the seas will rise as much as 2 feet in this century.
In less-developed areas, coastal wetlands might survive the sea level rise by moving to higher ground. But in the Middle Atlantic States, a dense mixture of buildings and roads renders inland migration impossible.