Sponsored by the Island County Marine Resources Committee (MRC), Ian Miller PhD of University of Washington presented to capacity crowds on both Camano and Whidbey Island explaining the causes and possible consequences of sea level rise due to climate change. One source of added water in the oceans is the melting ice above ground that is visible from year-after-year photos of Antarctica and Greenland. When this ice melts, since it wasn’t part of the ocean to start with, it adds volume. Furthermore, rising ocean temperatures mean the water is expanding.
Dr. Miller explained the uncertainty related to making predictions about the impacts, both in terms of when and by how much. For Washington waters, “There is a 50% assessed likelihood that sea level will be 2.1 feet or higher relative to present by 2100 if emissions track RCP 8.5.” RCP 8.5 refers to a ‘business as usual’(we make no changes) global scenario for Representative Concentration Pathway. Dr. Miller then compared that to RCP 4.5 (a pathway in which the world takes actions to reduce carbon emissions) for Island County which shows 50% assessed likelihood that sea level rise will be 1.8 feet.
After reviewing probability tables with the group, we then had the opportunity to look at possible scenarios for ourselves. MRC had outfitted the room with seven laptops, one for each table of participants. We viewed our local neighborhoods and beaches using the sliding scale on the left to see what was under water at 1 foot, at 2 feet of sea level rise and so on. [The Camano group noticed portions of Highway 532 in Stanwood would be under water at 1 foot of sea level rise.]
You too can use the Sea Level Rise online tool to see how the low areas get covered as sea levels rise. It is on a website managed by NOAA Office of Coastal Management. https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/tools/slr.html When you arrive at the website you need to launch the application then put in a zipcode or street address. I encourage you to check it out.
Dr. Miller’s research is part of a coastal communities regional resilience project to help inform people who live on the shores. Sea level rise can contribute to coastal flooding (higher surges, more frequent flooding), habitat loss (loss of mudflats, marshes), salinity change which could affect wells and groundwater) and shoreline erosion. You can find Dr. Miller’s presentation slides and additional materials and links online at https://www.islandcountymrc.org/projects/sea-level-rise-workshop/