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Norfolk Naval Shipyard

Rising Sea Levels Threaten U.S. Military Might

U.S. military bases on the nation’s coastline are at increased risk to “catastrophic damage” from flooding due to rising sea levels, according to a recent article by NBCNews and InsideClimate News.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association reports that global sea level is rising, and at an increasing rate. “In 2014, global sea level was 2.6 inches above the 1993 average—the highest annual average in the satellite record (1993-present).”

Rising sea levels expose many coastal communities to increased flooding caused by high tides and storms. According to NOAA, nuisance flooding from high tides and rain events is as much as “900 percent more frequent within U.S. coastal communities than it was just 50 years ago.”

High Risk Military Bases

Many of America’s strategic military bases are vulnerable to flooding, according to another report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Kennedy Space Center (Florida), US Naval Academy (Maryland), Washington Navy Yard (DC), and the Naval Air Station Key West (Florida) are among those at greatest risk.

The Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia is in particular peril. The site is one of only four shipyards designed to maintain the U.S. arsenal of nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, critical to U.S. defense and humanitarian missions. In the last ten years, the shipyard was impacted by nine major floods. Each event caused equipment damage and maintenance delays that affected the entire U.S. naval fleet.

Looming Disaster?

Sea level at Norfolk has risen 1.5 feet in the last 30 years causing an increase in nuisance flooding. After Hurricane Matthew dumped historic rain on the area, the Navy spent $1.2 million to repair one building badly damaged by flooding.

Most experts agree that a looming disaster for the shipyard is not a question of if, but when. Hurricane Florence came close to Norfolk in September 2018, veering south to bring a flooding crisis in Wilmington, N.C.

A recent computer simulation of a Category 4 Hurricane on Norfolk by the Federal Emergency Management Agency predicts a 12-15 foot storm surge that would submerge the entire area. A news release described the potential disaster as “New Orleans without the levee system.”

Protection from Rising Sea Levels

The military has been sitting on this issue for years. In 2010, the Quadrennial Defense Review made it clear that climate change should be a Department of Defense priority. In 2011, a Navy-commissioned National Research Council report warned that 56 Naval facilities worth $100 billion would be threatened if sea level rose three feet.

Since that report was published, little has been done to protect these assets from the threat of rising sea levels. Political resistance to climate change issues has blocked or slowed efforts to fund resiliency projects that would shore up America’s defenses before it is too late.

In Norfolk, the Navy dodged disaster in 2018, but climate change and rising sea levels remain a clear and present danger to U.S. military might.

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