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Filed Sept. Its billion-dollar space launch complex occupies a barrier island that's drowning under the impact of worsening storms and flooding. NASA's response?

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Nearly a third of that new sand has since been washed away. Across a narrow inlet to the north sits the island town of Chincoteague, gateway to a national wildlife refuge blessed with a stunning mile-long recreational beach — a major tourist draw and source of big business for the community. But the sea is robbing the townspeople of their main asset. The beach has been disappearing at an average rate of 10 to 22 feet 3 to 7 meters a year. Officials of the wildlife refuge say they face a losing battle against rising seas.

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Inthey proposed to close the beach and shuttle tourists by bus to a safer stretch of sandy shoreline. The town revolted. Four years on, after a series of angry public meetings, the sea keeps eating the shore, and the government keeps spending to fix the damage. All along the ragged shore of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic coast of the Delmarva Peninsula, north into New England and south into Florida, along the Gulf Coast and parts of the West Coast, people, businesses and governments are confronting rising seas not as a future possibility.

Other stories will show how other nations are coping.


In cities like Norfolk, Virginia, and Annapolis, Maryland, coastal flooding has become more frequent. Beyond the cities, seawater and tidal marsh have consumed farmland and several once-inhabited islands. Here in Accomack County alone, encroaching seawater is converting an estimated 50 acres 20 hectares of farmland into wetlands each year, according to a Environmental Protection Agency study.

Some nearby villages have disappeared altogether.

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More than counties claim a piece of more than 86, mileskm of tidal coastline in the United States, yet no clear national policy determines which locations receive help to protect their shorelines. That has left communities fighting for attention and resources, lest they be abandoned to the sea, as is playing out in Chincoteague. Tidal waters worldwide have climbed an average of 8 inches 20 cm over the past century, according to the National Climate Assessment.

The two main causes are the volume of water added to oceans from glacial melt and the expansion of that water from rising sea temperatures. In many places, including much of the U. Eastern Seaboard, an additional factor makes the problem worse: The land is sinking. This process, known as subsidence, is due in part to inexorable geological shifts. But another major cause is the extraction of water from underground reservoirs for industrial and public water supplies.

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As aquifers are drained, the land above them drops, a process that can be slowed by reducing withdrawals. For this article, Reuters analyzed millions of data entries and spent months reporting from affected communities to show that, while government at all levels remains largely unable or unwilling to address the issue, coastal flooding on much of the densely populated Eastern Seaboard has surged in recent years as sea levels have risen.

The analysis is built on a time-tested measuring technology — tide gauges — that has been used for more than a century to help guide seafarers into port.

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Reuters gathered more than 25 million hourly readings from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tide gauges at nearly 70 sites on the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts and compared them to flood thresholds documented by the National Weather Service. The analysis was then narrowed to include only the 25 gauges with data spanning at least five decades.

It showed that during that period, the average of days a year that tidal waters reached or exceeded flood thresholds increased at all but two sites and tripled at more than half of the locations. When Reuters set out to measure the frequency of flooding along the U. These devices, originally deployed to assist by mariners, are critical to understanding the interaction between land and sea.

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The gauges measure the level of the surface of the sea, relative to a fixed point on land. Some gauges have been in operation for a century or more, providing a long-term view of sea levels unavailable from satellites. Most of the data is online and available to the public through multiple portals operated by NOAA.

At nearly 70 of those gauges, National Weather Service forecasters have published thresholds for when flooding can begin. Reuters downloaded more than 25 million hourly readings from those gauges and compared them to the flood thresholds.

Reuters then determined how many days in each meteorological year had at least one hour when the sea level equaled or exceeded the flood threshold. A meteorological year, from May 1 through April 30, is used so the winter season is not split.

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If a gauge did not have data from at least days in a year, or 80 percent of the days in a typical year, the were ignored. For the purposes of measuring changes over multiple decades, the analysis then focused on the 25 gauges with data spanning five decades. The average annual flood-level days were then calculated for two periods: pre and present.

Gauges had to have at least five years of in a time period to be included. Reporters sought their input on how to analyze the data and how to present the findings.

Sincewater has reached flood levels an average of 20 days or more a year in Annapolis, Maryland; Wilmington, North Carolina; Washington, D. Beforenone of these locations averaged more than five days a year. Annapolis had the highest average of days a year above flood threshold sinceat On the Delmarva Peninsula, the annual average tripled to 18 days at the Lewes, Delaware, tide gauge. The flood threshold does not measure actual flooding.

It indicates the level at which the first s of flooding are likely to appear — ponding on pavements and such. The higher the reading, the higher the probability of closed ro, damaged property and overwhelmed drainage systems.

Scientists consider the readings to be a reliable indicator of actual flooding.

The NOAA study examined 45 gauges and found that flooding is increasing in frequency along much of the U. The coastal flooding is often minor. Its cumulative consequences are not. As flooding increases in both height and frequency, it exacts a toll in closed businesses, repeated repairs, and investment in protection. In effect, higher seas make the same level of storm and even the same high tides more damaging than Norfolk used to be. In Annapolis, home to the U. Shopkeepers blocked doorways with wood boards and trash cans; people slipped off shoes to wade to work in bare feet. Tropical storm flooding has worsened, too, because the water starts rising from a higher platform, a recent study found.

Nicole, by contrast, swamped downtown Annapolis and the Naval Academy. In tidal Virginia, where the tide gauge with the fastest rate of sea level rise on the Atlantic Fast is located, a heavy rainfall at high tide increasingly floods ro and strands drivers in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach. The Potomac River turns into a tidal estuary just north of Washington as it flows toward Chesapeake Bay to the south. The average of days a year above flood threshold has risen to 25 sinceflirting from five before Inthe U. The corps expects to finish in late autumn a foot-long, 9-foot-tall barrier across 17th Street near the Washington Monument.

It still needs to raise by up to 3.

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Congress authorized it in Congress chooses which corps projects to fund on a piecemeal basis. The wait list is symptomatic of a larger problem hindering efforts to deal with rising seas: the U. Engineers say there are three possible responses to rising waters: undertake coastal defense projects; adapt with actions like raising ro and buildings; or abandon land to the sea.

Lacking a national strategy, the United States applies these measures haphazardly. Sea level rise has become mired in the debate over climate change. And on climate change, the politically polarized U. The stalemate was on display in May, when the administration of President Barack Obama released its updated National Climate Assessment.

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The report was five years in the making, with input from more than scientists, engineers, government and industry officials and other experts, a member advisory committee and more than a dozen federal departments and agencies. It was among the first major assessments of climate change to move from predictions of disaster to flirting out the effects that can already be seen: record-setting heat waves, droughts and torrential rains.

Congress actually recognized global warming way back fast with passage of the National Climate Program Act. But sea levels have been rising for years in Baltimore. NASA scientist William Krabill and his team have flown research missions from there aboard aircraft with laser technology to measure changes in the Greenland ice sheet, 1, miles long, miles wide Norfolk up to 2 miles thick.

The data they have collected since has produced evidence that the ice covering Greenland is melting. Their discoveries underpin predictions of rising seas for decades to come. Wallops Island is gradually being inundated. Yet this bastion of climate research has been slow to apply the science of sea level rise to its own operations. Officials here are embarking on expansion in the face of increasing assaults from the sea.

But a billion dollars in assets — 50 NASA structures including three sub-orbital spacecraft launchers, as well as a commercial spaceport and a Navy surface combat training center — cluster on Wallops Island. Moving them farther north would put them too dangerously close to the people of Chincoteague, she said.

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But Wallops Island has been losing an average of 12 feet of shoreline a year. Rather, it has allowed wave action to consume the natural beach that once served as a shoreline buffer. As required by law, they released a draft environmental impact statement on the plan. Reviewers from state and federal agencies criticized the document for failing to adequately take rising sea levels into in the project de and impact, or to temper future plans for expansion.