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SLAMMED by Mother Nature

New website gives an eye-opening look at the effects of sea-level rise

Areas highlighted in light blue and circled in orange could be encroached upon by rising Bay waters over the next 25 years.

Dobbins Island in the Magothy River is a summertime attraction for boaters. On a warm summer weekend, the sandy north-facing beach becomes crowded with enthusiasts dropping anchor and floating languidly in the gentle current. Sooner rather than later, though, Dobbins Island will be reduced to a skeleton by rising sea levels. Water will cover the sandy shores, and the beach will turn into an obstacle course of submerged trees.
    This scenario will happen to most of the islands on the Bay. The constant gnaw of erosion and pull of the current already threaten the majority of the Bay’s islands.
    Like Dobbins Island, places close to the water will be the first to feel the effects of sea rise.
    You can compress time to look into the future of your neighborhood on a brand new website called SLAMM, short for Sea-Level Affects Marshes Model.
    Before SLAMM, you had to read data, graphs or charts for information on sea-level rise. With the advent of this new technology, information and potential scenarios are played out right before our eyes. The goal of the climate model is to “make the results of climate change readily available,” says Jeff Ehman, project leader for SLAMM.
    The interactive website, created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, layers sea rise projections on Google Maps to illustrate how the water will flood coastal lands through 2100. You can choose four time frames — 2025, 2050, 2075 and 2100 — and see what happens along five key shorelines. As well as the Chesapeake and the parallel Atlantic Coast, SLAMM projects for coastal South Carolina and Georgia; the Grand Bay Estuarine Research Reserve in Mississippi and Alabama; Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf coast; and Puget Sound and coastal Washington.
    It’s a scary picture.
    During my trial run of SLAMM, I focused on three different areas in the Bay region.
    As low-lying areas surrounded by a large body of water, Annapolis, coastal Calvert County and much of the Eastern Shore are particularly vulnerable.
    As the EPA explains, “Rising sea levels will inundate wetlands and other low-lying lands, erode beaches, intensify flooding and storm damage and increase the salinity of rivers, bays and groundwater tables.”
    Like Dobbins Island, City Dock, in the heart of Annapolis, is a favorite docking point for area boaters. Bars line the waterway, and much of the economy relies on the cooperation of the water for business to thrive.
    The forecast for this area, though, has much of the land surrounding Spa Creek under water. Major flooding may not be coming, but many of the restaurants are too close to the water to survive.
    The freshwater marsh at Cove Point in Calvert County was recently the recipient of hours of handwork to ensure that brackish Bay water did not contaminate the fragile ecosystem. The 2100 projection is not optimistic. The model has saltwater overtaking the freshwater marsh and inundating the volatile habitat.
    Out of curiosity I typed in my parents’ address in Woolford, just outside Cambridge. With much of the area being low-lying marsh and swamp, I knew that the projection could not be good. Out of the three areas, this low stretch of land received the worst prognosis. The entire area is forecast to become a swamp by 2100, with sea levels rising to overtake almost all dry land in the area. Current swamps and marshes in the area will become open water.
    SLAMM is not intended to be an end-of-day prophecy. It is meant as a realistic projection of the problems our area could face if sea levels continue to rise. See where we’re headed — unless we change our ways — at www.slammview.org