Analysis Shows Major Impacts to Homes, Economy, and Environment
PORTLAND, MAINE – Today, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) released one of the most complete depictions ever done of the potential impacts on Maine’s coastline from rising sea levels due to global warming. Using the latest available science, NRCM’s analysis shows that coastal businesses, homes, wildlife habitat, transportation systems, and some of the state’s most treasured places are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise.
NRCM identified 20 “Most at Risk” communities along Maine’s entire coastline – from York and Kennebunkport to Jonesport and Beals – where rising sea level could result in the loss of up to 30% of a town’s land and cause millions of dollars worth of damage to property and infrastructure [See chart
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The NRCM analysis estimates that a one-meter rise would submerge more than 20,000 acres of coastal real estate in Maine; the six-meter rise would inundate more than 128,000 acres. The two scenarios would destroy 53 and 380 miles of roads, respectively.
“If global warming continues unabated, then portions of Maine’s coastline will be forever changed. That is why we are calling for increased efforts at every level to reduce global warming pollution. The most dangerous impacts of sea-level rise can still be avoided, but widespread action is needed now. According to scientists, we have a shrinking window of opportunity to change our course—measured in years not decades,” said Voorhees.
“Just a few years ago, scientists believed that the maximum sea-level rise would be around three feet by 2100. But now a three-foot rise is viewed more as a middle range of what might occur due to global warming,” said Voorhees.
Among the more dramatic findings of the analysis are the following:
• 1,000 acres of downtown Portland could be wiped out, including all of Commercial Street and portions of I-295.
• Most of the village of Kennebunkport along with President Bush’s family home on Walker’s Point could be completely submerged.
• Bath Iron Works, the state’s largest private employer, would be ruined by the smaller sea-level rise and completely flooded in the higher sea-level rise scenario.
• Reid State Park in Georgetown would be devastated.
• More than 12,000 acres of land could be submerged on islands in Penobscot Bay including Vinalhaven and Deer Isle, which would destroy fire departments, public libraries, and other coastal properties.
• The Cranberry Isles could be radically transformed from five islands to thirteen, losing 30% of their total surface area.
• Scarborough Marsh, one of the largest and most valued wildlife sanctuaries in New England, would be almost completely destroyed.
• Of Maine’s 1,250 publicly-protected parcels, more than half would be harmed, even with a one-meter rise. These include 250 areas controlled by the Department of Conservation, 125 controlled by Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, plus 95 Nature Conservancy sites and 22 Maine Audubon sites.
NRCM developed its analysis with assistance from the geographic information systems (GIS) department at Colby College and with input from faculty at University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. The analysis includes two sea-level rise scenarios: one-meter (3-foot) and six-meter (20-foot). The former figure is routinely suggested as a level that could be reached in our children’s lifetime. Many scientists now believe the latter level is a possibility, due to accelerating global warming, and sea and land ice melting in Greenland, Antarctica, and the Arctic Circle.
NRCM calculated impacts for the entire coast, and produced detailed maps for several areas including Portland, Kennebunkport, Damariscotta, Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough, Bath, Georgetown, Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Isles.
Scientists and planners have known for more than a decade that the sea level is rising. In 1995, the EPA estimated that a 2-3 foot sea-level rise was possible over the next several generations. Climate change scientists have recently revised their predictions in response to a quicker than expected warming trend. Global warming has accelerated the melting of ice in Greenland, Antarctica, and the Arctic Circle. Glaciers worldwide have shrunk by more than 50%.
“Based on what we are learning in the polar regions, we must now confront the possibility of a rapid 3-foot sea-level rise caused by melting glaciers,” said Professor Gordon Hamilton of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. “Glaciers in Greenland are changing much faster than we expected just two or three years ago. This should be cause for very serious concern in a state like Maine, with the nation’s longest coastline and many communities built just slightly above sea-level,” said Hamilton.
The technique used by NRCM to show sea-level rise represents a conservative estimate of impact under these two scenarios. In reality, rising seas erode beaches and bluffs much faster than if the sea level was simply rising as in a solid bath tub. The area affected in the one-meter scenario could easily be doubled by storm surges. No erosion or storm surge flooding was modeled in the NRCM analysis, making the actual effects potentially more devastating.
Economic impacts could be serious. Businesses could be damaged, real estate lost, transportation infrastructure destroyed, and tourism revenues lost.
• Many parts of Route One would need to be completely rebuilt and re-routed.
• Millions of dollars would be required to rebuild fresh water supplies and wastewater treatment plants.
• The value of damaged and destroyed commercial and residential properties would be enormous. Two neighborhoods in Portland with an assessed value of more than $70 million, East Deering and Baxter Boulevard, would be ruined by a six-meter rise.
• The value of properties along the more affected, and more expensive, south coast would be in the hundreds of millions.
• Because these areas include some of the State’s most important tourist destinations, the economic impact on Maine’s $3.5 billion tourism economy could be incalculable.
Ecological impacts could be severe. Breeding habitat in sand dunes, tidal marshes, and coastal wetlands, used by hundreds of species, could be destroyed. Impacts would be particularly high for some of Maine’s most endangered birds like the Piping Plover, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and Roseate Tern.
“Coastlines have continually changed over the millennia, but this degree of change over the course of decades means that marshes, beaches and other needed habitat will be destroyed before new nesting grounds can be created,” said Jeanette Lovitch, a biologist, birder and business owner from Yarmouth.
“This analysis should be a wake-up call. We still have an opportunity to avert the most serious impacts, but doing so will require increased actions at all levels to curb greenhouse gas emissions,” said Voorhees. “Maine has shown good initial leadership by individuals, cirties like Portland, and by the State – but we need to increase our actions to boost energy efficiency, expand renewable energy, and cut carbon emissions. We all must be part of the solution that will help keep the worst of these scenarios from becoming a reality.”
Portland Mayor Jim Cohen participated in the news conference, held at Portland City Council Chambers. “More and more, the interests of our environment and our economy are intersecting,” said Cohen. “When we conserve energy, we save money and we improve our environment. As a coastal community, Portland is particularly vulnerable to climate change and sea-level rise, and so I’m very proud that Portland was able to join hundreds of cities around America in support of the Mayor’s Climate Action Plan and that we are taking a leadership role through our Sustainable Portland Task Force.”