This past week our region experienced the highest tide in six years, driving home the name our area is known for — the Lowcountry. This nuisance flooding is only going to get worse as sea levels rise, and combined with other factors such as a strong tidal pull and tropical depressions off the coast, it will continue to have an effect on the Charleston area, underscoring the importance of combating the rising tide sooner than later.
In the 2014 NOAA report, “Sea Level Rise and Nuisance Flood Frequency Changes around the United States,” the research report clearly shows an increase of nuisance flooding in our region since the 1980s.
This information, paired with the latest NASA projections stating that the 1-3 foot projections for sea level rise could already be outdated, is not good news for our area. According to researchers like Dr. Steven Nerem, Associate Director of Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at University of Colorado at Boulder, we are “locked into at least three feet of sea level rise, and probably more.”
One of the unique aspects of living in the Lowcountry is that we have a gently sloping continental shelf off of our coast, putting our area at an increased risk of nuisance flooding due to sea level rise.
During Hurricane Hugo in 1989, it was estimated that between $5-7 billion dollars of damage was caused to the Charleston area alone. Given changes in factors like sea level rise, the potential impacts of a similar hurricane impacting our area could be exponentially greater today and in the future.
Through a partnership with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and with other regional and local partners, the Aquarium will be able to use the latest innovations in super-computing technology to gather information that will allow us to establish conservation strategies to protect critical natural, municipal and business habitat/infrastructure. The South Carolina Aquarium has established a Resilience Taskforce that has representation from the local business community, including the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), College of Charleston, and The Citadel. The purpose of the Resilience Taskforce is to guide how we can most effectively achieve cooperative planning and engagement for our city and region.
These proactive approaches to combat the rising tide could save thousands of human lives, protect billions of dollars in critical infrastructure, and bolster our ability to develop plans to protect the most fragile parts of our watershed ecosystem.
Given the above evidence, it has become vital for Southeast cities, including Charleston, to plan for an increase in nuisance flooding and sea level rise. If you link together all of those factors with projections for more intense storms and storm surge, it becomes obvious that the time to take action is now.