Report: Rising seas threaten Charleston's Historic District, other national landmarks

  • Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 12:56 p.m., Updated: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 8:32 a.m.
Pedestrians walk by City Hall and St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Charleston in this April 2014 file photo. A report released Tuesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists says that Charleston's Historic District is one of two dozen landmarks nationwide threatened by rising sea levels.

Charleston's Historic District and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are among the national landmarks threatened by rising sea levels, according to a report released Tuesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

For more info: Find this story online at postandcourier.com to read the complete report.

The report lists 30 such sites nationwide scientists say need to be protected from climate changes ranging from sea level rise to floods and frequent wildfires.

The 84-page report, "National Landmarks at Risk" mentions such varied sites as NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the Statue of Liberty, the Bandelier National Monument & Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico and the Bering Land Bridge National Monument in Alaska.

The report notes that in Charleston, high tides and summer thunderstorms already routinely flood the popular City Market area. It says nuisance flooding will increase with rising sea levels. If the sea level rises 2 feet, homes south of Colonial Lake would inundated, the report says.

"Even on sunny days, extreme high tides cause saltwater to back up through storm drains onto the roads, snarling traffic and sometimes forcing businesses to close," the report said.

It noted that while the city is building new pump stations and drainage tunnels, water could back up when rainfall exceeds the capacity of the new systems.

The report concluded "Charleston will have to be as aggressive in protecting itself from present and future climate change as it has been in preserving the city's cultural past."

In North Carolina, studies conducted a quarter century ago noted rising sea levels were endangering the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The 4,800-ton lighthouse was moved nearly 3,000 feet from the shore in 1999, but in recent years sea level rise on the Outer Banks has been two to three times the global average, the report said.

All of the Outer Banks, the string of narrow barrier islands on North Carolina's coast, are vulnerable to higher seas and stronger storms.

The report noted that North Carolina 12 along the Outer Banks was breached in two places during Hurricane Irene in 2011, and buried under sand during Hurricane Sandy the following year while last year a nor'easter again buried the highway.

As sea level rises "the hard choices that were made in deciding how to response to an imminent threat to the lighthouse's future will have to be made again and again," the report concluded.

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