Continuing Conversations: Preparing Coastal Communities for Sea Level Rise

Speaker: Gayle Bowness, Science Education Program Manager for Gulf of Maine Research Institute

Speaker Date: September 18th, 2019 6:30pm-8:30pm

the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust hosted Gayle Bowness from GMRI to give a talk on rising sea levels and the impacts that will occur in our Kennebunkport and Cape Porpoise community. Over sixty concerned citizens gathered and learned about the most recent 2017 scientific data and how that translated to changes along our coastline. From numbers and graphs to maps and images, the message was clear:

Sea levels are rising. It’s not if, it’s when.

According to the latest 2017 Climate Change report, if we continue on with our current global greenhouse gas emissions, without a cap and plan to reduce emissions, we will see a 9-11 foot rise in sea levels. If by 2040 we cap emissions and enact a global plan to reduce our atmosphere’s greenhouse gases, average predictions show a 4-6 foot tidal difference.

So, with all of this research and data, why is there uncertainty in the amount of sea level rise we will see over various time periods? The uncertainty lies in the rate at which our ice sheets are melting. We know sea levels are rising, we know the ice sheets are melting, but we don’t know by how much, how fast because we’ve never had to test how ice sheets respond to greenhouse gas exposure over a finite time period.

So what’s causing sea level rise (SLR)? A multitude of things. Our carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are trapping heat in our atmosphere, which raises both land and sea temperatures. As air and sea temperatures rise, global glaciers and land-based ice sheets are melting, increasing the volume of water in ocean. Along with these melting glaciers, as our water temperatures increase, the water molecules expand, therefore expanding the volume of our oceans as well.

When sea levels rise, coastal habitats are threatened, marshes migrate, dunes are lost, and beaches erode. Houses and lawns are submerged, and roads are washed out. While all of this matters greatly, SLR is about so much more. It’s the sewage overflow swept into the oceans through outdated drainage systems. Unrecoverable freshwater wells, breached by salt water. It’s the pollution and lost resources, damaged infrastructure and economic devastation.

Sea level rise is social, it’s environmental, and it’s you.

Impact of predicted 6 foot sea level rise in Cape Porpoise and Kennebunkport.

Impact of predicted 6 foot sea level rise in Cape Porpoise and Kennebunkport.

(Kennebunkport, ME) Flooding events aren’t just about clear sunny days. We have to think about the ways that storms, rain, and waves interact with the coast lines as sea levels rise as well.

(Kennebunkport, ME) Flooding events aren’t just about clear sunny days. We have to think about the ways that storms, rain, and waves interact with the coast lines as sea levels rise as well.

Altering the predictions of climate change and sea level rise can seem like a daunting challenge, but this isn’t the first time we have been faced with a problem to solve.

I like to think, my grandmother in a million years never thought that she would see people hopping on planes for fun travel. My father never thought that he would see someone walk on the moon. I never thought that I could have a computer, more powerful than the ones that used to fill this whole room, fit in my pocket. Humans have incredible creativity. So it is important to look at this and not feel hopeless... but feel inspired. Because now is the time that we need all of us to work together and be creative. We need to inspire people, not make them feel that it is hopeless.

Leia Lowery, Director of Education

With all of the science and data, how do we tackle a solution to global sea level rise? With global collaboration, change, and policy, starting at the community level. While there are so many ways to make a difference, here are some to think about:

  1. Prepare: updating storm-water drains to prepare for salt water back flooding and rainwater

  2. Change: cut back on carbon personal carbon emissions (share transportation)

  3. Live with the Water: elevate homes, create space for living shorelines

  4. Climate Migration: moving our communities inland

  5. Public Education and Support: be informed, volunteer to gather citizen data, share your stories, call your legislatures, attend lectures, take classes, engage in brainstorming solutions

The Kennebunkport Conservation Trust wants to start a conversation with you in our community. What concerns, thoughts, and questions do you have? What ideas and innovations can you imagine?

The solutions we need may be global, but they begin in your backyard.

UPDATE 9/25:

When we discuss actions to mitigate the impacts of climate change on sea level rise, one of the big things to work on in the United States is the emission of greenhouse gases through transportation (and other means). The State of Maine has just announced plans to make statewide efforts at becoming carbon-neutral by 2045!

Governor Announces Maine Climate Council

Last week, just days before speaking at the UN Climate Summit and pledging that Maine will have a carbon-neutral economy by 2045, Governor Mills announced the membership of the Maine Climate Council. Mills proposed the council in April, and it was enacted with bi-partisan support in the legislature soon after. Maine's Climate Council is charged with establishing strategies and initiatives to help the state meet its greenhouse gas reductions and renewable energy generation targets as it works to combat climate change, and to make sure our communities, industries and people are resilient to the changes our state is facing.

The Climate Council will also convene several working groups from within its membership - including a Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, a Transportation Working Group, a Coastal and Marine Working Group, a Natural and Working Lands Group, and others - to focus on how the state can tackle challenges within these specific areas. The list of Maine Climate Council members can be found here.

Maine Land Trust Network

Want to learn more about the impacts of carbon dioxide on the environment? Click here.

Additional Resources:

Book: Drawdown

Online Resources:

Living Shorelines - NOAA

Sea Level Rise Viewer

Stanford: Earth Matters (Climate Change)

Senate’s Latest Bill in Response to Climate Change

International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (view various climate change reports)

2019 Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate

Transportation and CO2 in the United States