Along Eastern Seaboard, rising sea no myth

2013-05-20T00:00:00Z Along Eastern Seaboard, rising sea no mythSandy Bauers The Philadelphia Inquirer Arizona Daily Star

PHILADELPHIA - The night Meghan Wren got stranded by floodwaters and had to sleep in her car, she knew it was time for a reckoning.

She had been driving to her waterfront home along the Delaware Bay in South Jersey. As she crossed the wide marsh in the dark, the water rose quickly. It became too deep - ahead and behind. She had to stop and wait.

To her, no longer were climate change predictions an abstract idea. Sea level has been rising, taking her waterfront with it.

"This isn't something that's coming," she later told a group of bay shore residents and officials. "It's here. We just happen to live in a place that will affect us sooner."

Wren lives on tiny Money Island - a peninsula of bayfront land with about 40 small homes and trailers.

Just visible across the grassy marsh is Gandys Beach with 80 homes. Farther south, Fortescue with 250 homes. All three are steadily disappearing.

On the Atlantic Coast, beach replenishment masks the effects of sea-level rise. But along the low-lying bay shore, veined with creeks, the problems are striking.

With each nor'easter, more of the beachfronts erode. More of the streets and driveways flood. Septic systems, inundated with salt water, are failing.

"We're seeing beyond the normal damage," said Steve Eisenhauer, a director with the Natural Lands Trust, which has a 7,000-acre preserve in the area. "We see the problems getting worse."

In the last century, sea level in the bay has risen a foot, gauges show, partly because the warming ocean is expanding and polar ice is melting. Also, New Jersey is sinking.

All the while, humans have been pumping more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The planet's average temperature has increased.

"All those links are very strong," said Pennsylvania State University's Raymond Najjar Jr., an expert on climate change in Mid-Atlantic estuaries.

"The reason the sea is rising as fast as it is in the Delaware Bay is human-induced climate change," he said, echoing many experts.

Sea level is rising faster now than in the early 20th century, and scientists expect it to rise even faster in the future.

Downe Township officials have come up with a $50 million plan to shore up the shore and add amenities to draw tourists.

The plan, which would cost the equivalent of $31,500 per resident, calls for bulkheads and truckloads of sand, restrooms, picnic benches, nature-viewing areas and a visitor center.

A $1.8 million seawall in nearby Sea Breeze failed a year after being built, and the state bought out 23 households three years ago for $3.3 million.

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