Rising oceans threaten to submerge 18 US military bases

Saturday, 30 July, 2016 - 19:00

Rising oceans will swallow parts of the world's biggest naval base by the end of the century, according to experts who warn that it will take billions of dollars in upgrades to prepare these facilities.

Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia and 17 other U.S. military installations sitting on waterfront property are looking at hundreds of floods a year and in some cases could be mostly submerged by 2100, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Nine of those bases are major hubs for the Navy: In addition to Norfolk, flooding threatens Naval Station Mayport, Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia and the Naval Academy in Maryland, where 2003's Hurricane Isabel flooded classrooms, dormitories and athletic facilities.

It's not just the Navy. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island is at risk of being completely underwater. All told, three Marine Corps installations, two joint bases, an Air Force base and a Coast Guard Station are also at risk of daily flooding, the report said.

Those are the findings of a study released Wednesday by the scientific non-profit organization, which has published research into climate change, fuel efficiency standards and the use of antibiotics on livestock.

Some installations, including those in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, area, already have measures in place to protect against storm surges, study authors told Navy Times.

"There are lots of things that can be done and all of the things require quite a bit of resources," climate scientist Astrid Caldas said in a Thursday phone interview.

The Defense Department is taking the research under advisement.

"DoD values the UCS's insights into the impacts of climate change on military installations," Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Badger told Navy Times. "We welcome their report and its findings. We recognize climate change impacts and their potential threats represent one more risk that we must consider as we make decisions about our installations, infrastructure, weapons systems and most of all, our people."

The study began as a look at the effects of heavy storms on coastal bases, but the scope expanded as they got deeper.

"We were surprised at how much permanent inundation occurs," Caldas said. "Originally we were focusing on hurricane storm surge. When we decided to do tidal flooding, that’s when it hit us."

That original goal is the reason the study focused on East and Gulf Coast installations, because the West Coast doesn't have regular tropical storms.

"Knowing what we know now about tidal flooding, looking back it would have been good to include the West Coast," Caldas added.

The findings could also apply to military installations overseas, she said, though parts of Alaska and some Pacific Islands are actually seeing a reduction in sea level.

"Most likely the majority of the coasts around the world will see sea level rise," she said.

Sixteen of the installations studied would experience more than 100 floods every year and low-lying areas underwater for 10 to 25 percent of the year, the study found. Three installations would lose 10 percent of their land in the "intermediate" scenario and 25 percent in the "highest."

The Navy installations on track for daily flooding are:

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Maine.
The Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Naval Support Facility Anacostia in Washington, DC.
Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC.
Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.
Naval Air Station Oceana/Dam Neck Annex, Virginia.
Naval Station Mayport, Florida.
Naval Air Station Key West, Florida.
Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia.

The other branches' bases at similar risks to daily flooding:

Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, DC.
Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina.
Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

By 2100, the report found, Key West, Langley-Eustis, Dam Neck Annex and Parris Island could be between 75 and 95 percent under water.