The Rising Tide in Boston: Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding due to Climate Change

Ellen M. Douglas1, Paul H. Kirshen2 and Chris Watson1
1Environmental,

Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Boston 2Battelle Institute, Lexington, MA

Boston Harbor Sea Level Rise Forum November 9-10, 2010
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Boston Harbor Sea Level Rise Forum November 9-10, 2010
Planning Committee Members  Deborah Hadden, Massport, and Jack Wiggin, Urban Harbors Institute, UMass BostonCo-Chairs
            

Richard Dimino, A Better City Jamie Fay, Fort Point Associates Jim Hunt, City of Boston Environmental & Energy Services Julia Knisel, MA Office of Coastal Zone Management Richard McGuinness, Boston Redevelopment Authority Charles Norris, Norris and Norris Scott Rickards, Equity Office Properties Bud Ris, New England Aquarium Carl Spector, City of Boston Environment Department John Sullivan, Boston Water and Sewer Commission Ellen Douglas and Chris Watson, UMass Boston Paul Kirshen, Battelle Institute Vivien Li and Patrice Todisco, The Boston Harbor Association The Boston Harbor Association thanks the Barr Foundation for their generous support of the Forum and follow up meetings.

Climate change is already underway.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that: • it is “unequivocal” that Earth’s climate is warming • it is “very likely” that human emission have caused most of the observed increase in global averaged temperature

Source: IPCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis—Summary for Policymakers.

How is our planet responding?

Souce: IPCC (2007)

How is our planet responding?

Ocean Heat Content

Souce: IPCC (2007)

How is our planet responding?

Souce: IPCC (2007)

What causes sea level rise?

The most recent SLR projections

Source: Vermeer, M. and S. Rahmstorf, 2009. PNAS, 106:21527-21532

The most recent SLR projections

5 ft

2.5 ft

Source: Vermeer, M. and S. Rahmstorf, 2009. PNAS, 106:21527-21532

So what does this mean for Boston?

Increases in daily tide heights

Affects basements, sewers, piers, beaches, wetlands, low-lying roads

So what does this mean for Boston?

Increases in daily tide heights

Affects basements, sewers, piers, beaches, wetlands, low-lying roads

Possible bi-monthly flooding due to astronomically high tides

More of the above

So what does this mean for Boston?

Increases in daily tide heights

Affects basements, sewers, piers, beaches, wetlands, low-lying roads

Possible bi-monthly flooding due to astronomically high tides

More of the above

Storm surge reaches further inland

Flooding in areas not flooded before

Low tide

High tide

Low tide

High tide

WICKED high tide

Low tide with SLR

High tide with SLR

WICKED high tide plus SLR…uh-oh!

Storm surge at low tide

Storm surge at high tide

Storm surge at WICKED high tide

Storm surge at WHT with SLR

Seem unbelievable?
Long Wharf & Central Wharf, June 2009 –High Tide

Mapping of potential flooding in Boston

Potential flooding at High Tide with
 

2.5 ft SLR (lower range of possibility) 5 ft SLR (upper range of possibility)

Mapping of potential flooding in Boston

Potential flooding at High Tide with
 

2.5 ft SLR (lower range of possibility) 5 ft SLR (upper range of possibility)

Potential flooding due to extreme coastal storm (5 ft surge) on top of SLR

Mapping of potential flooding in Boston

Potential flooding at High Tide with
 

2.5 ft SLR (lower range of possibility) 5 ft SLR (upper range of possibility)

Potential flooding due to extreme coastal storm (5 ft surge) on top of SLR All maps show flooding at WHT

Mapping of potential flooding in Boston

Potential flooding at High Tide with
 

2.5 ft SLR (lower range of possibility) 5 ft SLR (upper range of possibility)

Potential flooding due to extreme coastal storm (5 ft surge) on top of SLR All maps show flooding at WHT.

Mapping of potential flooding in Boston

Potential flooding at High Tide with
 

2.5 ft SLR (lower range of possibility) 5 ft SLR (upper range of possibility)

Potential flooding due to extreme coastal storm (5 ft surge) on top of SLR All maps show flooding at WHT.

Mapping of potential flooding in Boston

Potential flooding at High Tide with
 

2.5 ft SLR (lower range of possibility) 5 ft SLR (upper range of possibility)

Potential flooding due to extreme coastal storm (5 ft surge) on top of SLR All maps show flooding at WHT.

Boston Circa 1890

Boston with 2.5 ft of SLR

Boston with 5 ft of SLR

Boston with 2.5 ft of SLR

2.5 ft of SLR + 5 ft surge

2.5 ft SLR

5 ft SLR

2.5 ft SLR+ 5 ft surge

2.5 ft SLR

5 ft SLR

2.5 ft SLR+ 5 ft surge

2.5 ft SLR

5 ft SLR

2.5 ft SLR + 5 ft surge

What can we do about this?

Mitigation

Reducing our carbon emissions through energy efficiency, renewable energy and conservation

What can we do about this?

Mitigation

Reducing our carbon emissions through energy efficiency, renewable energy and conservation Until mid-century, impacts of on-going climate change are inevitable - we need to do things now to prevent future damage

Adaptation

Why Adaptation ?
Reduce Vulnerability
“Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate change and variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.” (IPCC 2007)

Forms of Adaptation

Reactive Proactive Spontaneous
Must be integrated

Research shows that ‘proactive’ is generally
most effective

General Proactive Adaptation Responses

Do Nothing Accommodate

Protect
Retreat

A mix of actions may be taken over space and time

Approach to Adaptation Planning
Overcoming the Challenges of Uncertainty

Portfolio Approach

A stakeholder-driven mix of the above responses in different places throughout the Harbor, and over different time periods

Flexible, Adjustable, and Robust strategies

Function well no matter what climate change occurs and can be adjusted as we learn more

Approach to Adaptation Planning
Overcoming the Challenges of Uncertainty

Evaluated using multiple criteria

Social, economic, environmental ….

Integrated with sustainability planning

 

Respond to other pressures on the region and the need for GHG mitigation No-regrets and co-benefits actions Integrates protection of ecosystem services with adaptation of human systems

Flexibility

Timing of Actions Changing Actions Adjustable Infrastructure

Safeguarding the Environment
Safeguarding Land for Future Options

Coordination with Other Infrastructure Projects

Two basic types of actions

Here and Now

For new projects and presently threatened areas

Prepare and Monitor

A flexible plan is developed now and implementation options are preserved Actions taken when a trigger point is reached based upon a monitoring system

Questions for Boston Harbor

What are the key requirements for a possible adaptation plan for the Harbor? How can we turn adaptation into an opportunity to promote sustainable social, economic and environmental conditions in the Harbor? How can we make the Harbor an even more desirable destination to live and work in than it is already?