Category Archives: Sea Level Rise

The Rising Sea

A Book by Orrin H. Pilkey and Rob Young

Published by Island Press

On Shishmaref Island in Alaska, homes are being washed into the sea. In the South Pacific, small island nations face annihilation by encroaching waters. In coastal Louisiana, an area the size of a football field disappears every day. For these communities, sea level rise isn’t a distant, abstract fear: it’s happening now and it’s threatening their way of life.

In The Rising Sea, Orrin H. Pilkey and Rob Young warn that many other coastal areas may be close behind. Prominent scientists predict that the oceans may rise by as much as seven feet in the next hundred years. That means coastal cities will be forced to construct dikes and seawalls or to move buildings, roads, pipelines, and railroads to avert inundation and destruction.

The question is no longer whether climate change is causing the oceans to swell, but by how much and how quickly. Pilkey and Young deftly guide readers through the science, explaining the facts and debunking the claims of industry-sponsored “skeptics.” They also explore the consequences for fish, wildlife—and people.

While rising seas are now inevitable, we are far from helpless. By making hard choices—including uprooting citizens, changing where and how we build, and developing a coordinated national response—we can save property, and ultimately lives. With unassailable research and practical insights, The Rising Sea is a critical first step in understanding the threat and keeping our heads above water.

About The Authors

Orrin H. Pilkey is James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Geology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He authored and edited many books, including, most recently, “Global Climate Change: A Primer” and “The World’s Beaches: A Global Guide To The Science Of The Shoreline”

Rob Young is the director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines and professor of geosciences at Western Carolina University.

Rising Oceans: Too Late to Turn the Tide?

sea level rise
Photo source: ©©PinPix


As the world’s climate becomes warmer due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, sea levels are expected to rise by up to three feet by the end of this century.

But the question remains: How much of that will be due to ice sheets melting as opposed to the oceans’ 332 billion cubic miles of water increasing in volume as they warm up?

Read Full Article, Science Daily

Strong El Niño could bring increased sea levels, storm surges to U.S. East Coast

coastal wetlands sea level rise
A new NOAA study found coastal areas along the East Coast could be more vulnerable to storm surges and sea level rise in future El Nino years. Caption and photo source: NOAA


Coastal communities along the U.S. East Coast may be at risk to higher sea levels accompanied by more destructive storm surges in future El Niño years, according to a new study by NOAA.

The study was prompted by an unusual number of destructive storm surges along the East Coast during the 2009-2010 El Niño winter.

The study, led by Bill Sweet, Ph.D. from NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, examined water levels and storm surge events during the ’cool season’ of October to April for the past five decades at four sites representative of much of the East Coast: Boston, Atlantic City, N.J., Norfolk, Va., and Charleston, S.C.

From 1961 to 2010, it was found that in strong El Niño years, these coastal areas experienced nearly three times the average number of storm surge events (defined as those of one foot or greater). The research also found that waters in those areas saw a third-of-a-foot elevation in mean sea level above predicted conditions.

“High-water events are already a concern for coastal communities. Studies like this may better prepare local officials who plan for or respond to conditions that may impact their communities,” said Sweet. “For instance, city planners may consider reinforcing the primary dunes to mitigate for erosion at their beaches and protecting vulnerable structures like city docks by October during a strong El Niño year.”

Sea level rise East Coast NOAA
November 2009’s Mid-Atlantic Nor’easter brought damage to the Hampton Roads, Va. area, to include a barge that grounded onto Virginia Beach. Caption and photo source: NOAA

El Niño conditions are characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific that normally peak during the Northern Hemisphere “cool season.” They occur every three to five years with stronger events generally occurring every 10-15 years. El Niño conditions have important consequences for global weather patterns, and within the U.S., often cause wetter-than-average conditions and cooler-than-normal temperatures across much of the South.

The study builds on previous ocean-atmospheric research, which has concluded that during El Nino Nor’easter wind storms are more frequent along the East Coast during the ‘cool season’. El Niño and its impacts usually fade in the warmer months, and which may transition into La Niña conditions, which are generally opposite to those of El Niño. However, a similar connection between La Niña conditions and depressed East Coast sea levels was not found.

“This research furthers our understanding of the interconnections between the ocean and atmosphere, which are so important in the Earth’s climate system, and points to ways this greater understanding can be used to help coastal communities prepare for the winter season,” said Keith L. Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society.

Original Article, NOAA

US West Coast Erosion Spiked In 2009-10, Previewing Likely Future As Climate Changes, USGS

Forests soak up third of fossil fuel emissions: study

mangrove trees
Clouds’ reflection in the mangroves. Photo source: ©©AussieGall

Excerpts; AFP

Forests play a larger role in Earth’s climate system than previously suspected for both the risks from deforestation and the potential gains from regrowth, a benchmark study released Thursday has shown.

The international team of climate scientists combined data, covering the period 1990 through 2007, showed that the world’s forests combined are a net “sink”, or sponge, for 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon, the equivalent of 13 percent of all the coal, oil land gas burned across the planet annually.

“…forests are even more at the forefront as a strategy to protect our climate.”

This is the first complete and global evidence of the overwhelming role of forests in removing anthropogenic carbon dioxide…

Read Original Article

A Giant Brought To Its Knees: The Atlantic Coastal Forest

Madagascar’s Coastal Deforestation

Drawing Up A Global Red List Of Vanishing Ecosystems

Mangrove Forests In Worldwide Decline

US West Coast Erosion Spiked In Winter 2009-10, Previewing Likely Future As Climate Changes

By U.S. The Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey

Knowing that the U.S. west coast was battered during the winter before last by a climatic pattern expected more often in the future, scientists have now pieced together a San Diego-to-Seattle assessment of the damage wrought by that winter’s extreme waves and higher-than-usual water levels. Getting a better understanding of how the 2009-10 conditions tore away and reshaped shorelines will help coastal experts better predict future changes that may be in store for the Pacific coast, the researchers say.

“The stormy conditions of the 2009-10 El Niño winter eroded the beaches to often unprecedented levels at sites throughout California and vulnerable sites in the Pacific Northwest,” said Patrick Barnard, USGS coastal geologist. In California, for example, winter wave energy was 20 percent above average for the years dating back to 1997, resulting in shoreline erosion that exceeded the average by 36 percent, he and his colleagues found.

Among the most severe erosion was at Ocean Beach in San Francisco where the winter shoreline retreated 184 ft., 75 percent more than in a typical winter. The erosion resulted in the collapse of one lane of a major roadway and led to a $5 million emergency remediation project. In the Pacific Northwest, the regional impacts were moderate, but the southerly shift in storm tracks, typical of El Niño winters, resulted in severe local wave impacts to the north-of-harbor mouths and tidal inlets. For example, north of the entrance to Willapa Bay along the Washington coast, 345 ft. of shoreline erosion during the winter of 2009-10 destroyed a road.

The beach erosion observed throughout the U.S. west coast during the 2009-10 El Niño is linked to the El Niño Modoki (‘pseudo’ El Niño) phenomenon, where the warmer sea surface temperature is focused in the central equatorial Pacific (as opposed to the eastern Pacific during a classic El Niño). As a result of these conditions, the winter of 2009-10 was characterized by above average wave energy and ocean water levels along much of the west coast, conditions not seen since the previous major El Niño (classic) in 1997-98, which contributed to the observed patterns of beach and inlet erosion.

As even warmer waters in the central Pacific are expected in the coming decades under many climate change scenarios, El Niño Modoki is projected to become a more dominant climate signal. When combined with still higher sea levels expected due to global warming, and potentially even stronger winter storms, these factors are likely to contribute to increased rates of beach and bluff erosion along much of the U.S. west coast, producing regional, large-scale coastal changes.

The study, “The impact of the 2009-10 El Niño Modoki on U.S. West Coast beaches”, published in The American Geophysical Union’s “Geophysical Research Letters” on July 9, was led by the USGS in collaboration with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, University of California-Santa Cruz, Washington Department of Ecology, Oregon State University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The authors took advantage of up to 13 years of seasonal beach survey data along 148 miles of coastline and tracked shoreline changes through a range of wave conditions.

Original Article

Shifting Sands and Rising Seas

By Celie Dailey & Orrin H. Pilkey

Edingsville Beach (SC), Batik on silk by Mary Edna Fraser
2009, 79” x 35”

One important societal need, in the face of climate change, is to stop hardened structures from being placed along our sandy barrier island shorelines.

Unlike buildings, which the hard structures are supposed to protect, barrier islands are flexible, dynamic, and are even capable of landward migration in response to sea level rise.

Two of the problems with hard structures are that they cause the eventual loss of the beach and rarely protect the buildings from the really big storm. A beachside lot on a barrier island loses its mystique when there is no beach. The desire for a beach house or hotel view of the ocean overrides the obvious hazards of beachfront living and the eventual need for hard structures contributing to the loss of beaches.

In a time of rising seas, it is senseless and dangerous to build on barrier islands. With sea level rise expected to reach 3 feet above the present level by 2100, barrier island development will become impossible unless protected by massive seawalls around entire islands.

An entire Atlantic Coast barrier island community getting wiped out is not new news. Over the years a number of small communities have disappeared. Some have been lost to the waves of big storms, such as Edingsville, South Carolina, in 1893. Others have fallen into the sea more gradually because of a combination of storms and shoreline erosion, such as Broadwater, Virginia, in 1941. Still others were abandoned in the face of perceived future storm hazards, a wise move. Diamond City, North Carolina, for examples, was abandoned and its buildings moved to safer sites on the mainland after three close calls with closely spaced hurricanes in the late 1890s but before significant damage to buildings had occurred.

In pre-Civil War South Carolina, Edingsville was a high-end resort community with sixty houses, two churches, and a tavern. Wealthy people from Charleston and nearby Edisto Island escaped to the resort to enjoy the seabreeze and avoid the summer malarial mosquitoes on the nearby coastal plain interior. A drawing of the community shows people promenading on the beach, fully attired in formal clothing, following the customs of the day. An 1851 Geodetic Survey chart shows the houses neatly spaced across the entire island. After the Civil War, the wealth that supported the island community diminished and the town fell into disrepair. The end came when the great Sea Island Hurricane of 1893 struck and destroyed all the houses.

Subsequent erosion and island migration reduced the island to a narrow strip of sand less than a hundred feet wide. The old village, perhaps a harbinger, is now four hundred meters (one-quarter mile) offshore. Still, bits of brick, pottery and nails from the village often wash ashore in storms.

Mary Edna Fraser caught the image that inspired her batik in 1983 with her Nikon 35mm film camera. Orrin Pilkey recognized the beach as the former Edingsville location. The art was created in 2009 at Orrin’s request. Mary Edna considers this scene her “aerial backyard,” south of Charleston, South Carolina. Mary Edna often depicts regions that are free of the marks of man across the landscape, inspiring reverence for the dynamic power of the Earth.

The batik on silk of Edingsville Beach is featured in Our Expanding Oceans, a comprehensive art and science exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh which features the collaboration of Mary Edna Fraser and Orrin H. Pilkey and supports the newly published text by Duke University Press, Global Climate Change: A Primer.

The book is co-authored by geoscientist Orrin H. Pilkey and his son, Keith C. Pilkey, with art by Mary Edna Fraser. The exhibit, Our Expanding Oceans, is on view until November 6, 2011 and is scheduled to travel in 2012.

Our Expanding oceans, And Global Climate Change: A Primer, Article And Video, Coastal Care

Artist And Scientist Make A Natural Pair: United They Are An Educational Force, Coastal Care

Nil Delta Desert Islands: An Artist And A Scientist Symbiotic Point Of View, Coastal Care

Delete Apathy

Australia Carbon Pollution Tax Announcement: A Start!

maldivian flag sea level rise
Maldivian Flag dances to the surge and current. “Climate change is happening and it threatens the rights and security of everyone on Earth. With less than one degree of global warming, the glaciers are melting, the ice sheets collapsing and low lying areas in danger of being swamped. We must unite in a global effort to halt further temperature rises,by slashing carbon dioxide emissions to safe level of 350 parts per million.” Endorsed by the Cabinet of Republic of Maldives on 17th of October 2009. Photo and caption: ©© Sindhi


Prime Minister Julia Gillard is on Sunday due to unveil the full detail of her deeply contested carbon tax, which will see the country’s top 500 polluters charged per tonne of carbon dioxide they emit into the atmosphere, which aims to reduce emissions blamed for climate change…

Read Full Article, AFP

On course to suffer global warming of four degrees, The Sydney Morning Herald
There is only one way to frame the weekend’s carbon tax announcement: a start. Australia would need to lift its 2020 emissions reduction target to at least 25 per cent to play our fair share in giving the world a better-than-even chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees.

Australian Department Of Climate Change And Energy Efficiency

Mapping Sea Level Rise, Australian Department Of Climate Change And Energy Efficiency

Our Expanding Oceans, and Global Climate Change: A Primer

An exhibit by Mary Edna Fraser and Orrin H. Pilkey, Our Expanding Oceans, opened at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh on Thursday, June 23, 2011.

The exhibit, featuring over 50 batiks on silk illustrating threatened landscapes around the world, and coincides with the publication of “Global Climate Change: A Primer” (Duke University Press), co-authored by Orrin and Keith Pilkey with art by Mary Edna Fraser.

Our Expanding Oceans is set to tour to other venues in 2012.

” Global Climate Change: A Primer ”

The Preview’s Invitation:


Tuesday, July 19, 2011
6:30-8:30 p.m. with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Tir Na Nog, 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 833-7795

Dr. Orrin H. Pilkey will discuss global climate change and his soon-to-be-released book, “Global Climate Change: A Primer” (Duke University Press).

“This timely, informative book is exactly what the public needs to understand the ongoing disruption of the earth’s climate. Orrin H. and Keith C. Pilkey present an excellent summary of what we know, and what we don’t know, about the planet’s climate. They also provide a superb overview of a huge campaign underwritten by corporate dollars and intended to confuse the public and manufacture doubt about climate issues.” — Brent Blackwelder, President Emeritus, Friends of the Earth.

Is climate change real? How is it happening and how can we slow its progression? During this café we will learn about the science of global climate change and the damage that rising temperatures are causing: sea level rise, ocean acidification, glacier and sea ice melting, changing habitats, desertification, and the threats to animals, humans, coral reefs, marshes and mangroves. We will also discuss the arguments typically advanced by global change deniers. Could fossil fuel companies be promoting the controversy?

Artist Mary Edna Fraser illustrated the book with her batik art and will join the Café. A book signing will take place immediately following the Science Café.

This Café was made possible through a partnership with the NC Coastal Federation.

About our Speaker:
Orrin Pilkey is a research professor, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Earth and Ocean Sciences, and Director Emeritus of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines (PSDS) within the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University.

Please RSVP to

Something pretty from something ugly: climate change, NewsObserver Article

Artist and Scientist Make A Natural Pair: United They Are An Educational Force, Coastal Care

Nil Delta Desert Islands: An Artist And A Scientist Symbiotic Point Of View, Coastal Care

Average U.S. temperature increases by 0.5 degrees F



According to the 1981-2010 normals to be released by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) on July 1, temperatures across the United States were on average, approximately 0.5 degree F warmer than the 1971-2000 time period.

Normals serve as a 30 year baseline average of important climate variables that are used to understand average climate conditions at any location and serve as a consistent point of reference. The new normals update the 30-year averages of climatological variables, including average temperature and precipitation for more than 7,500 locations across the United States. This once-a-decade update will replace the current 1971–2000 normals.

In the continental United States, every state’s annual maximum and minimum temperature increased on average. “The climate of the 2000s is about 1.5 degree F warmer than the 1970s, so we would expect the updated 30-year normals to be warmer,” said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D., NCDC director.

Using standards established by the World Meteorological Organization, the 30-year normals are used to compare current climate conditions with recent history. Local weathercasters traditionally use normals for comparisons with the day’s weather conditions.

In addition to their application in the weather sector, normals are used extensively by electric and gas companies for short- and long-term energy use projections. NOAA’s normals are also used by some states as the standard benchmark by which they determine the statewide rate that utilities are allowed to charge their customers.

The agricultural sector also heavily depends on normals. Farmers rely on normals to help make decisions on both crop selection and planting times. Agribusinesses use normals to monitor “departures from normal conditions” throughout the growing season and to assess past and current crop yields.

NCDC made many improvements and additions to the scientific methodology used to calculate the 1981-2010 normals. They include improved scientific quality control and statistical techniques. Comparisons to previous normals take these new techniques into account. The 1981-2010 normals provide a more comprehensive suite of precipitation and snowfall statistics. In addition, NCDC is providing hourly normals for more than 250 stations at the request of users, such as the energy industry.

Some of the key climate normals include: monthly and daily maximum temperature; monthly and daily minimum temperature; daily and monthly precipitation and snowfall statistics; and daily and monthly heating and cooling degree days. NOAA and its predecessor agencies have been providing updated 30-year normals once every decade since the 1921-1950 normals were released in 1956.

Original Article, NOAA