Waves of Change: Planning for New England’s Unprecedented Sea Level Rise

Robin Just

Waves off West Barnstable, Massachusetts. Photo: nd-nʎ@flickr

Sea levels are rising 3-4 times faster along the east coast, from North Carolina to Massachusetts, than the global average, says a new study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). This “hot spot” of rising water puts us at unique risk from the changes that are happening to our ocean and will “increase the vulnerability of coastal cities to flooding, and beaches and wetlands to deterioration,” according to the report.

The reasons for our higher than average sea level rise are complex and involve changes in ocean circulation, temperature, and salinity, among other things (read the full report here if you want all the details). But you don’t need to understand why it’s happening to know that this is a problem we need to figure out how to manage. Look at the recent debate in Matunuck, Rhode Island over whether to “Save the Beach or Save your House” for an example of why this matters – and matters right now.

Ocean resources are currently managed by more than 20 federal agencies and administered through a web of more than 140 different and often conflicting laws and regulations. We have to find a better way to plan for our oceans and coasts in the face of the unprecedented changes that are already happening to them.

And there IS a better way. Regional Ocean Planning is one of nine objectives of the National Ocean Policy. It’s a way to make decisions about our ocean resources that helps us factor in multiple uses and changing conditions – by using the best data and latest information and, most importantly, working together.

Regional Ocean Planning is a science-based process of improving decisions about ocean resources before conflict arises – by involving everyone who has a stake in those resources, including municipalities, conservation groups, recreational users, and commercial and industrial entities.

The rate of sea level rise is predicted to continue increasing if our global temperatures keep rising. Hopefully our level of planning will rise as well.

Focus Areas

Climate ChangeOceans

Places

Massachusetts

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