Projected sea-level rise at Sewells Point on the Norfolk naval base, 1992-2100. Graphic: City of Norfolk

By Carolyn Beeler
26 June 2016

(PRI) – When US Secretary of State John Kerry wanted to push his country to take the lead on climate change, it was no accident that he chose to give a speech in Norfolk, Virginia.

Norfolk Naval Station is the biggest naval installation in the world. But, Kerry said last November, “the land it is built on is literally sinking.”

That was just weeks before the big United Nations climate change conference in Paris, and Kerry was framing climate change as a national security issue.

“By fueling extreme weather events, undermining our military readiness, exacerbating conflicts around the world — climate change is a threat to the security of the United States,” Kerry said.

Norfolk is the home port for the cruisers, destroyers and battleships of the Atlantic Fleet. Rising sea levels and increasing storm surges there are already having an impact on military readiness.

“It’s not the boats that are the issue, they’re designed to be in water,” said Captain Pat Rios, who until May was the head engineer for the Navy’s mid-Atlantic region. “The issue with sea-level rise is less about the ship, it’s more about the system that supports the ship.”

That system sits on more than 6,000 acres in Norfolk, on a point of land in southern Virginia near where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.

A combination of sinking land and rising water there means that relative sea level may be up to 6 feet higher by the end of the century than it is today, according to US Army Corps of Engineers estimates. Other projections find different rates of change — some higher, some lower. Rios cites local estimates that project sea levels to rise 2 to 4 feet by 2100. [more]

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