At the Start of a New Decade, a Look Ahead….

IBF’s first meeting of 2020 featured Dr. Ted Spickler speaking on the impact of climate change on the Delaware Inland Bays.  His discussion centered on flooding in the Inland Bays area: How bad has it been? How much worse might it become? What can we do about it?  

Dr Ted Spickler

Flooding in the Inland Bays has become a much more frequent event including in 2009, 2010, 2012, and in the years 2015 through 2019.  This leads to the question of what the future is likely to hold.  Dr. Spickler believes we should listen to the scientists who have been studying the flooding problem based on observed data.  The consensus forecast by the majority of scientists is, while we are seeing just a few floods a year in the Mid-Atlantic region now, the forecast is for 40 floods per year in 2030 and over 160 floods per year by 2050. 

Citizens can check the flood maps at DNREC using their Delaware Flood Mapping Tool.  As you look at the maps, Dr. Spickler suggests you become familiar with the codes that specify what the flood risk is in various areas (what does a code like AE6 mean, for example.) is another tool for looking at specific flood zones in the Inland Bays area, and the possible results of flooding incidents.  

Flooding is increased by global warming.  While the temperature increase shown by Dr. Spickler’s charts was not strictly linear, there was a clear upward trend over the longer term.  This continuous warming trend is caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere caused by human activity resulting in the green house effect. 

Dr. Spickler also talked about the major tipping points in global warming that will mean we are running out of time to address the challenge and our children and grandchildren will be threatened.  These include:

  • Permafrost Melting:  While originally estimated to take a couple of hundred years, it is currently going faster than expected.  Methane released by the melting permafrost is even worse for the environment than CO2.
  • Greenland Ice Sheet Melting:  This is also happening faster than originally forecast and it is uncertain when exactly this would happen.  When it does happen, however, it is expected to raise sea levels by 20 feet.
  • Antarctic Ice Shelves Melting:  Warm water intruding below the shelves is melting them from below.  If the ice shelves melt completely, this could add hundreds of feet to ocean levels.
  • Slowing Gulfstream:  This could lead to catastrophic impacts for Europe.
  • Changes in Hurricane Tracks:  Estimates are that the global warming trends will lead to a change in the path of most hurricanes.  Rather than heading into the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the major path for hurricanes would be toward the Mid-Atlantic region and east coast of the US. 

Most climate change predictions are based on climate models which look at trends in temperature, humidity and other factors.  Much of the variations in the models is due to different assumptions as to what the world is going to do in response to the crisis.  If you assume we will continue on our current world approach to dealing with climate change the impacts will be catastrophic.  If you assume major efforts to curtail greenhouse gasses, the outlook will be much brighter.  There are also many estimates based on various ranges of world response to the challenge. 

While Dr. Spickler did not have time in one evening for a full discussion of what we can do about these issues.  He provided as resource for climate solutions.