Virginia, whose coastal area is one of the world’s most economically vulnerable to rising sea levels, could set an international example by taking proactive steps to adapt to the threat, according to this article by Molly Mitchell, William A. Stiles Jr. and Troy W. Hartley, experts on sea-level issues. Mitchell is a scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Stiles is the executive director of Wetlands Watch. Hartley is the director of the Virginia Sea Grant Program.
Motivated by the near-miss of devastation from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and flooding from other recent hurricanes, leaders at both the state and local levels have begun to take a serious look at planning for rising sea levels.
The authors note that about 60 percent of Virginia’s population lives in localities bordering tidal waters and that the state is experiencing the highest rates of relative sea rise along the Atlantic Coast, with an increase between 1.2 feet and 2.3 feet in the past century, depending on the area. Not only are sea levels rising worldwide, but Virginia also experiences a sinking coastline as well as shifts in the Gulf Stream current. The rate of recent acceleration suggests that sea level rise in the next 100 years may be close to double the change experienced in the past century, the authors warn.
Rising water levels are a serious threat to waterfront developments, federal, state and local parks, and much of the tourism industry in Tidewater Virginia.