Dr. K. was recently asked by the editor of Sound Update to explain climate resiliency. Here’s the question and answer.
The term “climate resiliency” has become an increasingly popular buzzword in environmental circles, but what does this phrase really mean, both in a management context, and to those who live, play, and work on Long Island Sound? There can be no doubt that the climate of Long Island Sound is changing: sea level is rising, water is warming, and these contribute to a potential increase in the frequency and severity of
storm events. The vast majority of scientists agree that these changes are precipitated by human activity. But, regardless of the causes,change is upon us and more change is coming. So what are we going to do about it?
That’s where the concept of resiliency comes in. It reminds me of the old Aesop’s fable about the oak and the reed. While the oak trusts in its strength to withstand storms, the reed bends over in the wind. In the end, the reed is still standing while the oak is eventually toppled. Similarly, protecting coastal communities from the impact of a changing climate means deciding between armoring the shoreline by building seawalls, jetties, and breakwaters to mitigate the impact of storms, or softening the shoreline, relying on natural systems such as dunes, and saltmarshes to absorb the force of storm impacts.
In the wake of every major storm event in the last decade, from Katrina to Sandy, we have heard story after story of buildings protected by these natural structures, and yet we continue to develop our coastline, interfering with the natural erosional and depositional processes that create dunes, and restricting water flow into and out of salt marshes.While everyone from the staunchest pro-development advocates to hardcore environmental advocates agrees (at least in theory) that man and nature need to coexist, a fundamental disagreement exists regarding our definition of what this term means. Does it mean armoring our shorelines to protect coastal structures, or retreating away from the coast? I would posit that the answer to these questions is ‘yes.’ As with almost any problem, there is no one ‘catch all’ solution. Instead, we should: 1) be open minded and consider all options when discussing how to adapt to a changing climate; 2) continually adapt and adjust our strategy as more information becomes available; and 3) be proactive, investing in research and monitoring to understand what the impacts of a changing climate will be on nature and society, how to mitigate those impacts to the best of our ability, and how to use technology to minimize damage and speed recovery when impact does occur. Using this approach will help make our coastal communities more resilient to climate-driven changes to sea level, storm surges, and habitats.
ASK DR. K!
Send an e-mail to Jason Krumholz.. Dr. Krumholz is a marine scientist working as the NOAA liaison to the EPA Long Island Sound Office. View more of Dr. K’s questions and answers on the Ask Dr. K blog.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA or NOAA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA or NOAA do not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.