With every severe storm in the United States, including those here in New England comes speculation that this may be the new norm. Many scientists have issued warnings for years that more intense and severe storm activity is likely because of climate change. Coastal storms in particular pick up more energy from a warmer ocean surface and are much stronger as a result. So while hurricanes, northeasters, and blizzards are not new phenomena the size, frequency, and strength of these storms may be increasing.
Most of the American population lives near the coastline. Though weather forecasting and storm warnings have much improved in recent years, the coast is still quite vulnerable to extensive damage. And that’s because the coast is so highly developed and populated. Coastal communities are increasingly on high alert to damaging winds and flooding. Consequently many coastal towns and cities have developed plans to prevent these storms from inflicting long-term damage. The idea of course is to protect human life, but also to protect the valuable infrastructure that includes homes, businesses, and utilities. Implementing a series of proactive management measures will help coastal communities to adapt, referred to as coastal resilience.
Many of these measures may require a large investment to reduce risk and redesign the infrastructure. Municipal buildings, businesses, and residential neighborhoods may need retrofitting to adapt to the impact of storm surge which is a serious problem during coastal storms and this can lead to localized flooding and erosion. The construction of natural buffer zones can have an ameliorating effect on an area in a flood zone.
Each coastline has unique features and methods for protection will vary. If a beach is already heavily armored with jetties, seawalls, and revetments then the building of a natural dune or berm may add some protection and help reduce erosion.Restoring or even developing natural buffers that are heavily vegetated with a diversity of native plants can help alleviate the impact of coastal storms.
There are several biodegradable products that can also be used. Many experimental materials including coir rolls have been attempted. It’s important to recognize however that different methods may be needed particularly if a beach system has been disturbed. In all cases careful planning and management techniques that help restore a system must be coupled with the realization that these systems are dynamic and change is inevitable.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.