WCU scientists co-author Interior Department report on sea-level rise

A report released Tuesday (June 23) by the U.S. Department of the Interior that predicts the risk posed to U.S. national parks by rising sea levels was co-authored by two scientists from Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines.

WCU professor of geology Rob Young, who directs the shorelines program, and coastal research scientist Katie McDowell Peek were lead authors and collaborated with National Park Service scientists to produce the report released by Sally Jewell, U.S. secretary of the interior. The report estimates that national parks infrastructure and historic and cultural resources valued at more than $40 billion are at high risk of damage from sea-level rise caused by climate change.

PeekYoungCoverSMThe report is based on an examination of 40 parks – about one-third of those considered threatened by sea-level rise – and the survey is ongoing, Jewell said.

“Climate change is visible at national parks across the country, but this report underscores the economic importance of cutting carbon pollution and making public lands more resilient to its dangerous impacts,” Jewell said. “Through sound science and collaboration, we will use this research to help protect some of America’s most iconic places – from the Statue of Liberty to Golden Gate and from the Redwoods to Cape Hatteras – that are at risk from climate change.”

Almost 40 percent of the assets (the infrastructure and historic and cultural resources) in the 40 parks examined were put in a “high exposure” category because of their risk of damage from one meter of sea-level rise. That includes the assets at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, where the current replacement value of the assets was listed at almost $1.2 billion.

WCU’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines has received several National Park Service grants in recent years to assist the agency in identifying resources threatened by sea-level rise and producing strategies for the preservation of the parks’ infrastructure and resources. The program in an internationally known advocate for science-based coastal management policies that consider and balance economic and environmental interests.

“We are honored that Western Carolina University is playing a major role in this process, which will help preserve these parks for the next generation of Americans,” Young said. “To no small degree, the protection of our nation’s coastal heritage is being guided from Cullowhee.”

A link to a Department of the Interior news release about the report can be found online at http://www.doi.gov/. The report is accessible through http://go.nps.gov/coastalassets.

For more information about WCU’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, visit http://psds.wcu.edu.