NORFOLK, VA —
A nondescript metal box at the end of an unremarkable pier in Norfolk, Va. is one key to why the U.S. Navy is concerned about climate change.
For nine decades, the Sewells Point tide gauge or its ancestors have been recording the sea level off Pier 6 at Naval Station Norfolk.
The story it tells is clear. Between naturally sinking land and global warming driven sea level rise, the water is a half-meter higher than it was at the beginning of the last century.
That’s creating problems at the world’s largest naval base.
In rough weather, damaging surf slams against electrical, water and steam lines under the piers where the Navy docks its Atlantic fleet. High waves can keep sailors from getting to the ships. Even getting on base is getting harder as “nuisance flooding” becomes a regular problem, cutting off roads around the city of Norfolk.
“It’s not going to stop us from accomplishing our mission. We’re the military. We’ll figure it out,” said Capt. Dean VanderLey, commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command for the Mid-Atlantic region. “But it just makes things more difficult.”
“The higher the sea level gets, the more we’re going to have to deal with that,” he adds. “I don’t think we fully understand the scope of the problem. And we definitely don’t fully understand the solution.”
Hoax vs. threat multiplier
The commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump, has called global warming a hoax, although he now says there is “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change.
The Pentagon, on the other hand, takes the risks of climate change seriously.
Rising seas threaten coastal installations. Severe storms can cut off supply routes. Extreme heat limits training.
“The military has seen climate change as a problem since 2003, if not earlier,” says retired Army Gen. Gerry Galloway, now with the Center for Climate and Security.
National security threats from climate change are included in eight defense and intelligence documents published before President Obama took office, according to the center.