Global warming gives Georgia a sinking feeling

Ignoring facts as never been more popular. Or easier.

Fans of global warming relax on Georgia's Ossabaw Island. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Fans of global warming relax on Georgia’s Ossabaw Island. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Thanks to the Internet we no longer have to search for the truth, we can merely search for information that confirms our biases. Our friends copy-and-paste their “research” on social media to keep the misinformation train rolling.

Earlier this month, The New York Times ran a story headlined “Flooding of coast, caused by global warming, has already begun.”

The photo atop the article is of a flooded highway (U.S. 80) on Georgia’s Tybee Island. My reaction to the story and photo was “Yeah, that road’s been flooding for decades. I wonder if they ever fired the person that designed it?”

Then tropical storm Hermine sauntered across Georgia and almost wrecked my boat and left friends and family without electricity — my favorite utility — for most of the Labor Day weekend.

The relatively mild weather may have totaled a marina in St. Simons. Four sizable boats sank at the Frederica Yacht Club. Wind and the resulting waves destroyed part of the protective sea wall and docks. I am told the insurance company is pondering whether to scrap the whole thing and rebuild.

Did global warming have anything to do with the destruction? Or was it just the case of lady luck finally frowning on Georgia, which has a reputation for dodging hurricanes? In this specific case, there’s no way of knowing, but parts of Georgia are certainly going under water more often.

The mayor of Tybee Island, Jason Buelterman, a Republican, says “by any objective analysis, the sea level is rising.”

I figure the mayor of an island city has done more research into the effects of global warming than me so we can either take his word for it or check out a “Sea Level Rise Adaption Plan” put together by scientists from the University of Georgia, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other smart folks.

The study says U.S. 80, the only road to Tybee Island, experienced flooding more often in 2015 than any time since measurements began in 1935. And the sea level at nearby Fort Pulaski has risen 10 inches since 1935, the study says.

An increase of less than a foot in 80 years doesn’t sound like much until you realize many parts of Georgia are only a few feet above sea level. Tybee Island has an average elevation of 7.5 feet, U.S. 80 only 7 feet. Bi-monthly “spring tides” often exceed 9 feet, which explains flooded highway and yards.

While sea levels have risen, the major cause of flooding is because the Tybee area is sinking. “Geologists [say] local sinking of the land surface as the most likely cause for the higher rate of sea-level rise observed at Fort Pulaski,” the report says.

Still, experts predict sea levels will increase at least another foot by 2100, and potentially more than 6 feet. If the Atlantic Ocean rises that high, Tybee will effectively be under water and that beachfront property I bought near Pooler may finally pay off.

Unfortunately, we won’t be around in 2100 to see how this plays out. Waterworld was a terrible movie, it would make an even worse reality.


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