Backing away from shore more practical solution to rising sea levels

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Backing away from shore more practical solution to rising sea levels

Published Wednesday, December 5, 2012   |  461 Words  |  

An idea to pump up the shoreline to stay ahead of rising seas prompts more questions than answers.

The first: Isn't there a simpler, more realistic way to respond to this issue? South Carolina landed on it more than two decades ago when it passed its landmark Beachfront Management Act. The law's linchpin is a gradual retreat from the shore.

For much of America's coastline, and especially South Carolina's, that would be the more prudent course -- scientifically and economically.

The Southeastern Coastal Climate Network calculates that in the past 90 years, the sea level has risen a foot in Charleston, according to The Associated Press. In other areas, it has been worse. Since 1990, the sea level has risen almost 5 inches in Norfolk, Va.

The AP reports that two scientists are looking at raising the coastline itself. Environmental engineers Leonid Germanovich of Georgia Tech and Lawrence Murdoch of Clemson University are proposing a method they call SIRGE, or solid injection for raising ground elevation.

It involves injecting a sediment-laden slurry into hydraulic fractures in the ground. If repeated over a wide area, it could push up the ground surface. The scientists say it would probably need to be injected 300 or more feet below the surface, but might be possible to raise the coast as much as about 30 feet.

A similar method, called compensation grouting, already has been used to stablize ground above a tunnel.

While all this might be possible from an engineering standpoint, that doesn't make it a good long-term solution. Unfortunately, we tend to try to tackle man-made problems with more man-made manipulation. Seldom do we win out over Mother Nature.

And seldom are solutions inexpensive. We've seen recently in New York and New Jersey the economic impact of higher sea levels coupled with a monster storm. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked for $42 billion in federal aid, some of that to be used to waterproof electrical infrastructure, retrofit sewage treatment plants and floodproof subway tunnels.

New York's long-term solutions to protect against storm surges might include massive sea gates, artificial reefs and man-made barrier islands, the Washington Post reports.

High-rise metropolises, such as New York City, present a different set of issues than other areas of the Atlantic seaboard. Different locales will have to develop different solutions, including recognizing some land will be lost to the sea.

The goal of South Carolina's 1988 law was to protect the shoreline and its environment by moving people back from the dynamic shoreline system and getting them to build more responsibly in the coastal zone. It was a smart course then, and it's an even smarter course today.