Can we predict when people will abandon the Jersey Shore? ‘The way we’re doing things at the coast right now is dumb’Posted by Jim at Saturday, March 23, 2013
By Dave Levitan
20 March 2013
(Discover Magazine) – Diamond City, North Carolina, is not actually a city, in that no one actually lives there. People did live there, though, back in 1899. That was when a major hurricane hit the community, on a small barrier island near Cape Hatteras. Homes were destroyed, animals were killed, and graves were uncovered or washed away in the storm according to a conservation group in the area. By 1902, all 500 residents in Diamond City had picked up and left.
The people there didn’t have computer climate models, or rapidly rising seas, or any understanding of increasing storm vulnerability; they just had a desire not to deal with what they assumed would be a constant problem. That problem, of course, is one that anyone living on the East Coast is confronting, especially with the waters of Hurricane Sandy still slowly receding from our coastal consciousness. The question is, when should people in New Jersey, Long Island, Maryland, and elsewhere start thinking about leaving behind their own versions of Diamond City?
Dylan McNamara, a complex systems researcher at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, is trying to answer that question. He and colleague Andrew Keeler, of East Carolina University, have created a coupled model combining physical properties of the coast—beach erosion rates, varying degrees of sea level rise, storm vulnerability, and other factors—and economic and human factors involving risk perception and government subsidies. The model—published in the journal Nature Climate Change—can be used to examine, basically, when people will begin to abandon those houses at which Sandy huffed and puffed.
McNamara says that locales are particularly vulnerable to desertion if the economics aren’t good to begin with. “Right before [a major] storm the financial returns on their investment are just barely overwhelming the costs of being there, but then the storm comes,” McNamara says. “That’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” […]
“There seems to be this universal agreement amongst a lot of people that the way we’re doing things at the coast right now is dumb,” says Robert Young, a professor at Western Carolina University who studies coastal processes and management. “At the moment, I don’t see any need for most of these folks to think about climate change, because the federal government isn’t thinking about climate change.”
Young cited the case of Dauphin Island, Alabama, which he says has received a federal disaster declaration at least eight times in a quarter of a century. “This is a place that you would think would have been abandoned,” he says. “It’s barely a sandbar. And yet we continue to rebuild the roads on that place with federal funds, every time there’s a storm.” [more]