Climate changes effects predicted in the Lowcountry - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Climate changes effects predicted in the Lowcountry

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The release of the National Climate Assessment yesterday has been at the forefront of the news. The report highlighted concerns for South Carolina and more specifically Charleston

"The assessment talks about Virginia Beach, Charleston, Tampa and Miami. These are the cities that will have the most problems because we're very low lying. We're not that high above sea level," explains Doug Marcy. He is a coastal hazards specialist working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA. Charleston made the national news on Monday when it was listed as one of the top cities that will be affected by rises in sea level. 

"We are working on a project to map the impacts of not only sea level rises but coastal flooding as well," says Marcy of his research.

Our tide gauge in Charleston has been located at the custom house for the past 86 years. Marcy says over the last century the sea level has gone up over a foot and will continue to rise in the future.

"Take some of those scenarios we're looking at and, say, by 2050, a little less than a foot to between two and half feet range. And then by 2100, it gets a little bit bigger window because of the uncertainty but between 2 and upwards of 7 feet," he says of the sea level rises that are part of the current forecast.

One particular area of concern for scientist is the western side of the Charleston peninsula because all of that area, could eventually be underwater.

"A lot of our infrastructure, we're built right up to the high tide line. If you walk around parts of Charleston, the tourists that come down to the Battery. The highest high tides, we get during full moon and new moon, we have the tide right there, right at the edge," says Darcy of where the sea level is currently. But he believes if the research done by scientist like him is applied by managers at the local, state and national level, we can minimize some of the impacts. 

"There's a lot of infrastructure improvement that will have to be done to try to mitigate that," he says.

For some areas, rises in sea levels are happening quicker because of what is happening on dry land.

"In many cases, we've filled in areas. We've actually added coastline because we needed the space," says Marcy of some Lowcountry locations. And that created space may end up gone again in the next hundred years. 

"The daily tides that we get and the high tides are going to start impacting areas. And we've seen this happen over the past hundred years: places that didn't flood then, flood now. And we're going to have to start closing roads and there will be places we can't use because they'll be flooded too often," predicts Marcy.

With the sea level rises scientist are projecting, areas like Lockwood Boulevard in downtown Charleston could be under water, even on a beautiful, sunny day.

"That area is still sinking fast. You can actually see some of the old streets where the piling is coming up. It's still sinking because if you put a bunch of dirt there, over time it compacts," says Marcy of the western side of the peninsula. The combination of sea level rises and areas sinking is leading to concern. But there are things that we can do to get ahead of the problem.

"The things that we do to protect our city from storm surge because we know we can get a hurricane this year, potentially. Any year really. The things we do to protect against that, can also help to protect it against long term climate change as well," says Marcy as one of the solutions.

Plus, using the information we have now, like Marcy's research, to plan ahead.

"Looking at future land use: where should we build our more critical land structures to get them out of harm's way? And then leave the areas that are vulnerable as more open space for parks and things like that," suggests Marcy.

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