Largest Naval Base Will Be Overwhelmed by Climate Change

November 4, 2013

Above, Admiral David Titley, then Chief Oceanographer of the US Navy, gave a TED-X talk at the Pentagon in 2010, prior to his recent retirement.

Below, the Army Corp of Engineers reports on sea level impacts on the Navy’s largest base. As Admiral Titley reminds us, the rise of oceans is a big deal for the Navy, because they tend to build their bases at sea level.

Virginia Pilot:

Norfolk Naval Station’s vital infrastructure wouldn’t survive the kind of powerful storms and widescale flooding that rising seawaters are expected to bring by the second half of the century. And those conditions would likely get even worse in the following decades.

That’s the conclusion of a three-year case study of the naval base, conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, which analyzed computer storm models based on varying degrees of sea level rise.

It was one of four government-funded studies conducted nationwide to assess the impact of sea levels rising as much as 6 feet over the next 85 years.

“Military bases… are designed to be able to withstand hurricanes and flooding and that type of thing – to some extent,” said Kelly Burks-Copes, a Corps of Engineers research ecologist who led the study of the base. She spoke during an interview this week after presenting the findings at a conference at Old Dominion University.

“But there was a growing concern that the military’s infrastructure was no longer sustainable in the face of exacerbated storms and that climate change was likely to cause frequent storms, stronger storms, even if they are infrequent, more flooding,” she said. “And they needed the questions asked: What were the risks and if there were risks, were there ways to reduce the risks?”

The results drive home the immensity of the challenge the Navy faces preparing for a long-term threat as budget crises and government shutdowns undermine even short-term planning.

“It’s so hard to think decades out when I think most of the time they are just trying to get to Friday,” said retired Rear Adm. David Titley, who was the Navy’s oceanographer and founding director of the service’s task force on climate change. Titley, who now directs a center on climate change at Penn State, was a keynote speaker at the conference. “But at some point, you gotta do it.”

Below, Admiral Titley on ‘I Used to Be a Climate Change Skeptic”:


14 Responses to “Largest Naval Base Will Be Overwhelmed by Climate Change”

  1. daveburton Says:

    Norfolk has one of the highest rates of local sea level rise in America, at about 4.57 mm/yr. But much of the sea level rise at Norfolk is due to local land subsidence, unrelated to climate or global sea level change. Obviously, nobody expects the subsidence component of sea level rise to accelerate.

    Global sea level rise hasn’t accelerated in 80 years, either, and shows no sign of doing so in this century. Boosting atmospheric CO2 from 300 ppm to 400 ppm has had no discernable effect on sea level.

    There is an appearance of slight acceleration at Norfolk, however, over the last couple of decades. That appearance is deceptive. It is due to a well-documented ~60yr cycle, which affects sea level on the northern half of the U.S. east coast.

    Norfolk should see about 6.5″ of sea-level rise by 2050, and 12″ by 2080.

    That’s not exactly a catastrophe. I think the Navy can probably manage to raise their seawalls and piers by a foot over the next 67 years.

    Here’s a spreadsheet:
    Click on “Sewell’s Point, VA, USA” too see the graph.

  2. Nick Carter Says:

    Dave: You might want to tell the Navy that. Our future depends on your findings!

    After that, you might want to tell Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon to call off their plans to explore for oil closer to the North Pole. They’ve been seen talking to warmist experts in climate research about the possibility of getting oil near the North Pole, and apparently they agree with the warmists’ findings.

    After that, tell the rest of us how we will have no redress after our mineral rights are trampled on by other governments because we didn’t sign the Law Of the Seas Treaty. We will only be able to sit by and watch as Russia drills for oil on our arctic shores because the ice melted.

    After that, you can tell the oil refinery companies along Louisiana Highway 1 that they don’t have to worry about losing transportation access. The sudden flooding means no gasoline or diesel for much of that state as well as parts of Texas. That means transportation comes to a halt. Lots riding on your expertise there, Boss.

    What’s the takeaway? You don’t have to be a tree hugger to be concerned by all this warmist propaganda! 😉

    In the name of Jane Fonda, George Soros, Van Jones, Reverend Ayers, Che Guevera and Ethel Merman, Save us Dave!

    The world depends on Information Technology Technician, Dave Burton!

  3. dumboldguy Says:

    Dave has to be putting us on. Nick, who lives a rather long way from the ocean, seems to think so. I live close to Norfolk and the Atlantic, and definitely think he’s kidding us. Dave’s solution is for the Navy to raise docks and sea walls by 6.5″ in the next 37 years, 12″ in the next 67 years, and (presumably) by the 18″ that sea level will rise in Norfolk in 100 years (assuming Greenland doesn’t do a “quickie melt” on us anytime soon).

    Does Dave not understand that Norfolk and the whole VA Tidewater coastal plain area is where the sailor’s families live and go to school, and has the businesses that support the naval base and many other military facilities? It is almost as vulnerable as Miami. There will come a point where it will be necessary to build Netherlands-like control structures to protect the whole area in order to maintain the viability of the naval base. It’s more than “raise the docks”, Dave.

    It is rather cavalier to state “global sea level rise hasn’t ACCELERATED in 80 years”. Not sure that’s true, but if so, let’s hope it doesn’t accelerate until we can get a handle on what seems to be at the root of ALL global warming—CO2. Sea level rise appears to have exacerbated Sandy’s effects, and a similar strike in the VA Tidewater could be just as catastrophic right now, never mind in the future.

    PS Nice graphs from NOAA—they all show similar rises in sea level at the many stations. If “Boosting atmospheric CO2 from 300 ppm to 400 ppm has had no discernable effect on sea level”, as Dave states, perhaps he can explain why the many people who think there is a connection between rising CO2, rising temperatures, and rising sea levels are wrong.

    • daveburton Says:

      Humbleoldguy, in answer to your question, the reason that people who think there is a connection between rising CO2 and rising sea levels are wrong is that the data says so.

      In the case of Norfolk, we have 86 years of sea level measurements at Norfolk. During that time, sea level has been slowly but steadily rising. But it is rising no faster now than it was 86 years ago, despite the fact that over that time period mankind has boosted atmospheric CO2 levels from about 300 ppm to about 400 ppm.

      We’ve done the experiment, and we know the result: adding 100 ppm of CO2 to the atmosphere has not detectably increased the rate of sea level rise. There’s no reason to think that repeating the experiment once or twice more over the next 86 years will yield a different result, particularly since we know that adding more CO2 has a diminishing effect on temperatures.

      Did you know that? MODTRAN calculates that less than 20 ppm CO2 would produce 50% of the warming which current (400 ppm) CO2 levels produce. The NCAR Radiation Code says 40 ppm, but, either way, we’re past the point of diminishing returns w/r/t warming from additional atmospheric CO2.

      I’m not being cavalier when I say that global sea level rise hasn’t accelerated in 80 years. I’ve studied it, and published it, as have other researchers. There are some pertinent papers on the subject on my web site, here:

      BTW, the reason the NOAA graphs you looked at in that spreadsheet “all show similar rises in sea level at the many stations” is that the spreadsheet I posted only includes the handful of GLOSS-LTT tide stations near Norfolk. If you look elsewhere, the trends are often very different. In fact, at many GLOSS-LTT tide stations, local sea level is falling (due to PGR), rather than rising. Here are some spreadsheets with global coverage:

  4. kingdube Says:

    F the navy. Who needs then anyway. I’m moving to Iceland.

    • MorinMoss Says:

      Which may have to be renamed as some point. Greenland is taken so what will we call it?

      • jpcowdrey Says:

        Here’s proof daveburton is talking from his nether regions. From the very reference he cites:

        • Here is another one. Same source.

          Sea level rise there is 4.44mm/yr. Kinda high, Dave?
          I don’t get it. How do you get sea level fall out of that? That is a really high rise. That gives 1 inch every 6 years. 444 mm in a hundred years at todays rates. 17.5 inches in 100 years.

          • daveburton Says:

            I’m glad you clicked on the link in my spreadsheet, Christopher. Like I said, “Norfolk has one of the highest rates of local sea level rise in America.” But a big part of that rise is because the land is sinking.

            I did not say that sea level is falling there.

            In some places where the land is rising, it causes local sea level to fall. The top ~1/4 of this spreadsheet lists such tide gauges:

            Sea-level is falling at about 1/4 of the best long-term tide gauges (where the land is rising), and rising at the rest of the best long-term tide gauges. The global average is a very slow upward trend, but Norfolk sees more than twice the global average, due to land subsidence there (which has nothing to do with climate, of course).

            The single most important thing you need to remember about sea level is this fact: when we drove CO2 up from ~300 ppm to ~400 ppm (over the last ~2/3 century), the globally averaged rate of coastal sea level rise didn’t increase at all. In fact, in spite of all that CO2, the globally averaged rate of sea level rise hasn’t increased in over 80 years.

          • jpcowdrey Says:


            Land subsidence at Chesapeake Bay is ~1.4mm/yr. That leaves ~3mm/yr as the result of something else. Neither does land subsidence explain the acceleration to over 5mm/yr. in the last 50 yrs.

            C’mon. Pull the other one.

        • daveburton Says:

          No, jpcowdrew, that’s merely proof that you didn’t read what I wrote about the a well-documented ~60yr cycle, which affects sea level on the northern half (well, 60%) of the U.S. east coast. That’s a snippet from Zervas, C. (2009), NOAA Technical Report NOS CO-OPS 053, Sea Level Variations of the United States, 1854 – 2006.

          San Francisco has a longer record:

      • dumboldguy Says:

        The Admiral spoke to this in his talk. He suggested that Iceland would become a very important shipping nexus—-a “choke point” somewhat like Singapore once the ice was gone enough that freighters could go through the Bering Strait and right over the North Pole to Europe. How about “Singapore North”?

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Don’t know how this comment ended up down here—-it was a reply to MorinMoss’s earlier query about renaming Iceland.

        • MorinMoss Says:

          Given the Norse influence and the existing links with Surtur, Icelandic volcanism and geothermal activity, I think Jotunheim is probably more fitting

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