Lamont Climatologist Testifies on Capitol Hill About Sea Level Rise

In a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Environment, Lamont-Doherty climatologist Radley Horton delivered sobering remarks about how climate change will impact our coastlines, economy, and society at large.

Congress is exploring mitigation and adaptation strategies to prepare for one of the most dangerous threats associated with global climate change: sea level rise. Today, the House Subcommittee on the Environment, a subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, held a hearing entitled Sea Change: Impacts of Climate Change on Our Oceans and Coasts. Lamont Associate Research Professor and climatologist Radley Horton was among four top ocean experts to testify before the subcommittee. He delivered sobering remarks.

“There has been a lot of focus on whether worst-case scenario for 2100 is 4.3 feet, six feet, or even eight feet of sea level rise,” he said. “Even the most optimistic scenario imaginable—of one foot of sea level rise by 2100—would have direct and profound impacts.”

Horton went on to describe predictions, including more frequent coastal flooding and more intense and higher magnitude flooding. He detailed the societal and economic impacts as well.

“Sea level rise does more the just cause more frequent flooding. It means that when a coastal storm makes landfall, additional areas are flooded that would not have flooded before. And deeper floodwaters, which allow for greater wave penetration, cause more economic damage and loss of life. If the foot of sea level rise in the Greater New York/New Jersey Metropolitan Region since 1900 had somehow not occurred, 2012’s Superstorm Sandy would have flooded the residences of 80,000 fewer people.”

Congresswoman and subcommittee chair Lizzie Fletcher mentioned how rising seas are already affecting her district. “On Texas’s Seventh Congressional District, which I have the privilege to represent, we are seeing some of the earliest effects of coastal climate change, and we stand to face great risks as the fourth largest city and biggest energy exporter in the United States. At just 50 feet above sea level and as one of the flattest cities in America, Houston already experiences heavy rainfall, and our region the threat of storm surge – increasing the risk and reality of flooding.”

Rep. Fletcher, a Democrat, noted Hurricane Harvey set a record for total rainfall from a tropical cyclone, and said she is encouraged that her colleagues in Congress are interested in learning about climate change and its impacts. She said today’s hearing was to lay “the foundation for future discussions” that will lead to legislative solutions.

The subcommittee meeting took place two weeks after the full House Committee met to discuss climate change and its impacts. Today, Democratic and Republican members expressed concern about ocean health, noting the global ocean’s role in sustaining humanity, controlling global warming and the carbon dioxide budget. They also noted there is still much unknown and much to be explored, which requires investment.

“The ocean is vast and it’s very difficult to be everywhere and explore all the processes,” said Sarah Cooley, director of the Ocean Acidification Program at the Ocean Conservancy. She said there are obstacles to ocean exploration despite substantial advances in remote observing systems such as autonomous devices and satellites.

“Bringing the information together and making sure there’s no drift in the instruments still requires some individuals to be out there sampling. An integrated viewpoint on what is happening in the ocean is important,” said Cooley.

Click here to watch the entire hearing. The full text of Professor Horton’s written testimony can be found here.

— Marie DeNoia Aronsohn, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
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