Implications of rising sea level for Maryland’s borders

According to the Washington Post, Maryland coastal experts recently predicted that sea levels bordering the state could rise six feet over the next century.

Maryland, with a total of 3,100 miles of tidal shoreline, is one of the states most threatened by rising sea levels. The state could become especially vulnerable to flooding and storm surges, if the forecasts are accurate. The coastal states of Delaware, Virginia, Louisiana, and Florida are also at high risk.

ESSIC’s Dr. Richard Cullather, an Associate Research Scientist, works to improve model representations of ice sheets in order to determine their effects on rising sea levels.

Cullather feels there are natural phenomena that do impact sea levels, but that human-induced affects seem more likely.

“There is general consensus that sea level changes over the last century are very closely related to global temperature, and so this would indicate that human causes have recently played a significant role in sea level rise,” Cullather said.

ESSIC’s Dr. Ryan Walker, an assistant research scientist, felt similarly, that human-induced activities were chiefly responsible for rising seas.

According to Walker, recent studies indicate that only about 25 percent of sea level rise during the 20th century was due to natural causes and the rest can be attributed to human activity. Within the next century, researchers estimate that if greenhouse gases continue to increase unabated, human effects could eventually account for 95 percent of all sea level rises.

In terms of rising sea level implications for Maryland, Cullather estimates that even a 1mm increase in sea level would result in significant changes to the state’s boundaries and would cause loss of valuable land in the Delmarva wetlands.

When asked about measures for altering the projected human impact on rising sea levels, Cullather suggested a reduction in carbon emissions.

Focusing attention on responsible coastal development and wetland preservation is thought to be important as well, since wetlands act as a major defense against sea level encroachment.

However, many models indicate that sea levels will continue to rise even after CO2 levels stabilize.

“Sea level is a challenging issue for the science community, because not all of the potential inputs are well monitored or understood,” Cullather said.