Maryland urged to plan for 2-foot sea-level rise by 2050

Ocean City Boardwalk following Sandy

Superstorm Sandy damage in Ocean City, Maryland. Photo: Tom Nappi, Wikimedia Commons

Scientific panel urges building projects factor in climate change


Saying climate change is already underway, a panel of scientists is urging Maryland officials to plan to accommodate rising seas of up to 2 feet along the state’s shoreline in the next 40 years — and perhaps nearly 6 feet by the end of the century.

In a report to be released Wednesday and commissioned by Gov. Martin O’Malley, the group of 21 scientists from Maryland, Virginia and other mid-Atlantic states said recent, more sophisticated studies suggest that sea level is rising faster than forecast just five years ago.

With 3,100 miles of bay and ocean coastline, Maryland is vulnerable to a rising sea level, experts say. The state has 450 facilities and about 400 miles of roads and highways in low-lying areas that could experience flooding aggravated by climate change, according to state officials.

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy‘s devastating floods last year along New Jersey and New York’s coast, O’Malley asked for an update of sea-level rise projections in Maryland to help state agencies decide where and how to construct state buildings, especially in low-lying coastal areas. He issued an executive order in December directing that all new and rebuilt facilities be planned and constructed to avoid or minimize flood damage.

“It doesn’t need a lot of rocket science,” said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, who chaired the group’s deliberations. “We’ve got tide gauges that show us sea level is increasing. This is a real phenomenon. We should take it seriously and have to plan for it.”

The report comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday in Washington outlining steps he plans to take with or without Congress’ help to fight climate change and to assist communities nationwide in adapting to its impact, including droughts, wildfires and flooding.

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