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New BRIEFER: Hampton Roads, Virginia and the Military’s Battle Against Sea Level Rise

The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) departs Naval Station Norfolk ahead of Hurricane Irene. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Parde

The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) departs Naval Station Norfolk ahead of Hurricane Irene. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Parde

The Center for Climate and Security’s Virginia Fellow, Matt Connolly, writes about the challenges the Hampton Roads region and its U.S. military infrastructure are facing in a new briefer titled: “Hampton Roads, Virginia and the Military’s Battle Against Sea Level Rise.” For the full briefer, click here. For a summary, see below.

Summary and Key Points: Hampton Roads, Virginia and the Military’s Battle Against Sea Level Rise 

The Hampton Roads region of Virginia has been touted as the home of the “the greatest concentration of military might in the world.”   Unfortunately, the region also has the distinction of being among the most vulnerable to climate change-fueled sea level rise.  With sea level rise occurring more than twice as fast in Hampton Roads than the global average, several low-lying military installations in the region are exposed to persistent flooding and the accompanying damage and disruption to critical infrastructure and operations.  At Naval Station Norfolk, the United States’s largest naval base, the piers, roadways, utilities, and facilities on and around the base are subject to frequent flooding — costing time, attention, and budgetary resources.  With sea level rise projected to accelerate for the foreseeable future, the potential for future losses is enormous.  An Army Corps of Engineers study projected that, by the second half of this century, a large storm coupled with ongoing sea level rise could inundate 60-80% of the existing base.

For more than a decade, the Department of Defense has recognized climate change as a threat to its facilities and military readiness and operations.  In Hampton Roads, the Navy has started to work across jurisdictional lines with local, state and other federal agencies to develop a coordinated, regional approach to sea level rise preparedness and resilience planning.  However, numerous obstacles remain at each level of government to proactively plan for and adapt to the impacts of climate change.   Despite steps taken by DoD to identify and assess the impacts of climate change, the absence of comprehensive, actionable adaptation policies leaves NS Norfolk and other national security assets ill-equipped to confront the accelerating impacts of climate change.

 Source: Old Dominion University Sea Level Rise Initiative

Source: Old Dominion University Sea Level Rise Initiative

Key Points:

  • The Department of Defense has concluded that rising sea levels and climate disruptions impair military readiness and are a “present security threat, not strictly a long-term risk.”
  • The Hampton Roads region, home to 1.7 million people and over two dozen military sites, is the second most vulnerable region in the U.S. to hurricanes, storms, and sea level rise.
  • Major military facilities in Hampton Roads lie mostly or completely below 10 feet above mean sea level.
  • Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval complex in the world, is directly exposed to storm surge and sea level rise, which is already contributing to flooding that is disrupting base operations and damaging critical infrastructure on and around the base.  
  • Some scenarios project that sea level around Norfolk will rise by seven feet or more in the next 100 years.
  • A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers risk assessment found that, by the second half of this century, 60 to 80 percent of Naval Station Norfolk could be flooded during storms the size of Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
  • The Navy, National Security Council, and local, state and federal agencies have launched a first-of-its-kind, inter-governmental pilot project to increase Hampton Roads’ resilience to the impacts of sea level rise.

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