Today, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell released a report calling attention to the infrastructure of national parks and the historical resources within them. Scientists from Western Carolina University and the National Park Service worked jointly to conduct the study.
The report revealed that more than $40 billion worth of these park assets are at considerable risk of damage due to rising sea levels. What’s more concerning is that the study only included 40 parks and is ongoing, and they still have 78 more on their list to evaluate, which could bring the at-risk asset total to over $100 billion.
Climate change is a large culprit behind the risks of rising sea levels and a result of such drastic changes. Even though climate change has and continues to impact parks throughout the country, “[T]his report underscores the economic importance of cutting carbon pollution and making public lands more resilient to [climate change’s] dangerous impacts,” said Secretary Jewell.
For obvious reasons, coastal parks are of a great concern to the scientists. While there are variations depending on region and time of the year, scientists expect to see a 1-meter rise in sea levels within the next 100-150 years. On the other hand, in some areas such as parts of Alaska, climate change is expected to result in rising land mass as land glaciers and ice sheets continue to melt at extraordinary rates.
There are 118 parks considered by the National Park Service to be at risk to rising sea levels. The authors of the study studied 40 of these parks which included heavily visited urban areas in New York City and San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The “assets” in the report refer to historic sites, museum collections, visitor centers, lighthouses, bridges, and other resources and infrastructure within the parks. The authors note that the $40 billion value does not include the extra loss of billions of dollars due to lost land and tourism.
One meter may not seem like a lot, but National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis thinks differently. According to Jarvis, “Coupled with sea level rise, big storms have that extra volume of water that can damage or destroy roads, bridges, and buildings, and we saw what that looks like with Hurricane Sandy in 2012.” Much of the Ellis Island museum collection still remains stored elsewhere as repairs to Sandy-damaged areas continue today. Those behind the study hope the report can help determine which parks and preventative measures should be considered a priority.
“Through sound science and collaboration, we will use this research to help protect some of America’s most iconic places,” said Interior Secretary Jewell. The report may not be the greatest two-year anniversary celebration, but it is a necessary guide to help policy makers prepare for and possibly prevent some of the looming effects of climate change and rising sea levels.