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Congressional Research Service: Military Installations and Sea-Level Rise

CRS_Sea Level Rise US MIlitary Cover Photo

By Marc Kodack

The Congressional Research Service recently released a two page In Focus report on sea level rise and military installations. The U.S. Department of Defense has over 1,700 installations that could be affected by sea level rise, with the potential to affect readiness and operations. The authors suggest that Congress might consider using their fiscal and national security authorities to determine how these installations are preparing to address sea level rise.

The report summarizes information from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Global Change Research Program on the effects that rising ocean water temperature and melting terrestrial ice have had on global mean sea level. For example, overall changes in mean sea level of 7-8 inches have occurred since 1900, with 3 inches of that rise occurring since 1993. These changes can affect installations and their surrounding communities differently. For example, clear weather flooding may occur during high tides. During severe storms and hurricanes, storm surges and high wind have damaged and destroyed infrastructure, both on and off an installation. These storms can significantly disrupt operations and the ability of an installation to function, e.g., Tyndall Air Force Base’s estimated $4.7 billion in damage from Hurricane Michael.

While the Department of Defense (DoD) has previously identified climate change and sea level rise as risks to operations through guidance and research, Congress required DoD to revise military construction policies and procedures so that they explicitly address sea level rise. The report ends with possible issues that Congress may want DoD to address including (1) creating a standard definition of extreme weather; (2) creating a process on how to incorporate climate change projections, not just sea level rise, into infrastructure planning; and (3) if all installations, not just larger installations, should address extreme weather, e.g., storm surge, into their master plans.

To learn more on this issue, also see the Center for Climate and Security’s Military Expert Panel Report: Sea Level Rise and the U.S. Military’s Mission, 2nd Edition.

Dr. Marc Kodack Dr. is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security. Before retiring from federal service in 2018 with over 31 years of experience, Marc served as the Water Program Manager in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment. 

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