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A "new normal"

Is Hurricane Sandy the latest harbinger of climate change? Scientists point out that it is nearly impossible to associate a single meteorological event to climate change.

But what scientists do know, says Kauffman, who directs the Water Resources Agency at UD, is that sea levels have risen about 13 inches along the Delaware coast in the past century and continue to rise. The East Coast is a world hotspot for rising sea levels, and higher seas will only compound the impacts of future storms.

Kauffman is among several UD representatives who serve on the Climate Change Vulnerability Steering Committee convened by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). Other UD faculty are on a state committee that has assessed Delaware’s vulnerability to sea level rise. That assessment, released by DNREC in September 2012, will guide adaptation strategies.

Delaware, the lowest state in elevation in the U.S., is standing tall in preparing for sea level rise. According to the state’s vulnerability assessment, 8 to 11 percent of Delaware could be underwater by 2100. Those percentages are based on sea level rise scenarios ranging from the conservative to the more aggressive, of
0.5 to 1.5 meters (1.6 to 4.9 feet), respectively. In either scenario, at stake would be acres of beach and marsh and thousands of homes in communities that give the state its character.

“Delaware has been the envy of other states for mobilizing to identify the risks and plan for the future,” Kauffman says.

“Sea level rise will affect everyone—not just communities preparing for storms,” he warns. “It will affect what we pay in taxes, where and how we build our homes and highways, the places we work, our food and water, the wildlife around us and the recreation services we enjoy.”

What research is UD bringing to bear on such issues? Read on.