Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Oh Dear, We're All Going to Drown!

Sunrise over Hooper's Island
Another week, another sea level rise scare story in the Chesapeake Bay news feed. Herald Media from the Salisbury Times: Rising waters could mean disaster for Chesapeake

The last resident of Applegarth, Md., left Lower Hoopers Island in 1920. They left for good.

The land that was home to a once-thriving oystering community was crumbling into the Chesapeake Bay. Not long after the departure, a hurricane took down the lone bridge. Now, marshland is the only hint that anything was ever there.

The extended family of Applegarths have a long history in Dorchester County, Md., and are no strangers to the effects of climate change. They escaped as sea levels rose. They watched one of the Atlantic Coast’s most vital areas become one of its most threatened.


Walleye Pete with Hoopers Island Striper

Their 200-year-old Dorchester County farm, known as Medicine Hill to locals, sits on a ridge surrounded by marsh, a group of stark white buildings under an expansive sky. If sea level rise continues unchecked, flooding threatens to destroy the property — and its history with it.

In a worst-case scenario, global climate change will result in a severely warmed bay region. Glacial melt-fueled sea level rise and other effects will push back on the millions of dollars and years of effort by scientists, advocates, watermen and policymakers to clean the bay and aid its function. Maintenance of the worst-case pathway would mean big changes, both for local landmarks such as Medicine Hill and the bay as a whole.

A cemetery eroding out of Hoopers Island

The Applegarth farm’s eponymous “hill” is only about 4 feet high. Any gravitas the name lent the place was in addition to the 195-acre farm’s importance to the larger Golden Hill community. It had, at different times, a doctor’s office, a general store and a post office on site.

Several things about the property have piqued the interest of local preservationists and prompted its nomination for the National Register of Historic Places.

Medicine Hill and the surrounding area is deeply tied to the history of Catholicism on the Eastern Shore. The nearby 250-year-old original St. Mary Star of the Sea Church has graves in its cemetery that date back to the Revolutionary War.

I will answer the scare story the way I usually do; with the facts on sea level rise in the Chesapeake Bay, as measured by the tide gauges monitored by NOAA

 3.2 mm per year since 1900, with no signs of any increase in rate due to anthropogenic warming is hardly a disaster. It can be an inconvenience, and certainly even a hardship for people whose ancestors chose, for very good reasons, to settle on land close to the water (many of them were fishermen, no doubt, as are many of the current occupants of Hoopers Island). It's certainly no reason to ban SUVs or mandate intermittent solar and wind power over reliable natural gas.

Hoopers Island is a narrow, relatively flat piece of land, and even without sea level rise, which has been more or less continuous since the end of the last glacial advance, would be susceptible to erosion from storms

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