New Focus on Climate and National Security

November 25, 2018

NBC and Inside Climate News:

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — At the foot of the Chesapeake Bay in southeast Virginia lies a Naval shipyard older than the nation itself. One of the country’s first warships was built here in 1799. So was the first battleship, and decades later the first aircraft carrier.

Over the past three centuries, Norfolk Naval Shipyard has been blockaded and burnt to the ground, only to be rebuilt again and again. Today, it’s one of four Navy shipyards that maintain the nation’s nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers, which enable the Pentagon to respond quickly to military and humanitarian crises across the globe.

But the shipyard now faces its greatest existential threat: rising seas and extreme weather driven by climate change.

In the past 10 years, Norfolk Naval Shipyard has suffered nine major floods that have damaged equipment used to repair ships, and the flooding is worsening, according to the Navy. In 2016, rain from Hurricane Matthew left 2 feet of water in one building, requiring nearly $1.2 million in repairs.

And that wasn’t even a direct hit — the most immediate worry, former military leaders say, is a strong storm that blows right through the area.

“It would have the potential for serious, if not catastrophic damage, and it would certainly put the shipyard out of business for some amount of time,” said Ray Mabus, who was the Navy secretary under President Barack Obama. “That has implications not just for the shipyard, but for us, for the Navy.”

Among the shipyard’s greatest vulnerabilities are its five dry docks, which are waterside basins that can be sealed and pumped dry to expose a ship’s hull for repairs. Once inside, vessels are often cut open, leaving expensive mechanical systems vulnerable to damage from storms and flooding.

The dry docks “were not designed to accommodate the threats” of rising seas and stronger storms, according to a 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office. Navy officials warned the government watchdog agency that flooding in a dry dock could cause “catastrophic damage to the ships.”

Already, high-tide flooding is contributing to extensive delays in ship repairs, the GAO said, disrupting maintenance schedules throughout the Navy’s fleet. Sea level in Norfolk has risen 1.5 feet in the past century, twice the global average, in part because the coastline is sinking.

The Navy has erected temporary flood walls and uses thousands of sandbags to protect the dry docks at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. The Navy has also begun elevating some equipment, but the facility remains vulnerable, according to a Defense Department surveyon the effects of extreme weather on military bases, obtained through a public records request. In response, the Navy proposed a more permanent barrier estimated to cost more than $30 million, part of a 20-year, $21 billion plan submitted to Congress this year to modernize Norfolk as well as Navy shipyards in Maine, Washington and Hawaii.

But the new projects have yet to be approved.

The Navy said it takes extensive measures to limit damage from flooding. “These requirements ensure the safety of our personnel, our ships (nuclear and non-nuclear), and shipyard infrastructure,” William M. Couch, a Navy spokesman, said in an email.

In October, Hurricane Michael offered a glimpse of what can happen to coastal military bases in a storm’s path when it leveled much of Tyndall Air Force Base, damaging more than a dozen stealth fighters undergoing maintenance.

As usual, Al Gore’s been on it for decades. Suck it, haters.


10 Responses to “New Focus on Climate and National Security”

  1. Roger Walker Says:

    “part of a 20-year, $21 billion plan”

    And there you have it. Those guy still think they HAVE 20 years to get it sorted!

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    Well. When climate change is a threat to national security then it must be a biggie,

  3. dumboldguy Says:

    Have visited the Norfolk Naval Base more than once—-got private guided tours of the Nimitz and other ships from a neighbor who flew S-3’s off the Nimitz. Huge and impressive facility, with tens of thousands of military personnel and many civilian employees.

    The Hampton Roads area of SE VA is one of the areas most at risk from SLR in the U.S., and raising docks and building barriers is not going to solve the problem. The roads and neighborhoods surrounding the naval base (where most folks who work there live, both military and civilian) are getting flooded more frequently. It won’t matter much if the base is “hardened” but no one can get there and they have to deal with flooded homes.

  4. Ian R Orchard Says:

    If sea level rise is only a few millimetres and storms are supposedly not getting stronger or more frequent, there must be other explanations for Norfolk’s undeniable vulnerability, surely? Perhaps post glacial isostatic rebound has an up and down action?

    • greenman3610 Says:

      you are correct that the Delmarva area, central mid Atlantic coast, is the site of considerable isostatic settling, adding to the impact of sea level rise.
      Some coastal areas are actually rising, and seeing less impact, notably parts of Alaska.
      Long term, Greenland will actually see sea level fall as the ice sheet shrinks, and exerts less of a a gravitational pull on surrounding ocean waters. Amazing I know.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Post glacial isostatic rebound (in the downward direction) is definitely part of the problem—-excessive withdrawal of groundwater is also contributing to subsidence. They are getting hit from several directions.

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