Visualizing Sea Level Rise in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay
Realizing that climate change and sea level rise pose serious challenges to the region, on April 20, 2007, Governor Martin O’Malley established the Maryland Climate Change Commission. He charged the Commission with developing an action plan to address the causes of climate change, to prepare for the likely consequences and impacts of climate change to Maryland, and to establish a timetable for implementing the Commission’s recommendations.
According to the assessment of the Commission’s Scientific and Technical Working Group,* as the sea is rising, land in the Chesapeake is also subsiding. This subsidence is left over from when the glaciers were here long ago. The combination of sinking land and rising seas means that we could witness sea level increases as much as 1.3 feet along Maryland’s coast by the middle of the century.
By the end of the century, accelerated melting could produce a relative sea-level rise from 2.7 feet to 3.4 feet. (The difference will depend on how much we are able to cut greenhouse gas emissions.) According to the report, “Depending on the course of greenhouse gas emissions, observations, and modeling, planning for increases in sea level of up to 4 feet by the end of the century may be required.”
What would the worst-case scenario of sea level rise look like? We’ve doctored photographs of four Bay locations — Annapolis, Baltimore, St. Michaels and Kent Narrows — to give you an idea. The first set of photographs for each site shows approximately 4 feet of sea level rise. The second set shows the storm surge of a moderate-sized hurricane on top of that, based on the real effects (6 feet) of Tropical Storm Isabel (2003).Though these levels are only projections, they give us some sense of the kind of change that could be coming to the Chesapeake.
*Boesch, D.F. (editor). 2008. Global Warming and the Free State: Comprehensive Assessment of Climate Change Impacts in Maryland. Report of the Scientific and Technical Working Group of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change. University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Cambridge, Maryland. This report is a component of the Plan of Action of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, submitted to the Governor and General Assembly pursuant to Executive Order 01.10.2007.07.