The Virginia coastline is popular with beach goers and history lovers. But it’s also experiencing one of the highest rates of sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast – about a foot over the last century.

Many factors contribute, making predictions for the future complicated. The seas are rising, the land is sinking, and the Gulf Stream is shifting.

So to plan, Molly Mitchell of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science says experts use historic data and computer models to identify different scenarios of coastal flooding and predict which is the most likely.

Mitchell: “Both the models and the historic data suggest that that rate of sea-level rise is accelerating. And we’re expecting to see closer to about two feet by 2100.”

Mitchell says the state is taking the issue very seriously – looking at how to better monitor sea-level rise, adapt to the changes, and incorporate these estimates into coastal planning. The proactive response makes her optimistic.

Mitchell: “It’s not an insurmountable issue. It doesn’t have to be a crisis. It just requires some foresight and planning to deal with it effectively.”

As Virginia adapts to sea-level rise, the state is becoming a national leader on the issue.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Haven Beach, Mathews County. In 1981, this beach was about 200 feet east (into Chesapeake Bay) of its current location; the effect of rising sea level and storm activity moves many beaches landward under natural conditions. (Source: Virginia Department of Mines Minerals and Energy)

More Resources
Sea Level Rise: A Relentless Reality That Virginia Must Continue to Plan Carefully For
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Surging Seas: Sea Level Rise Analysis by Climate Central
Sea level rise, storms & global warming’s threat to the US coast, A Climate Central Report
Wetlands Watch

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is Editor of Yale Climate Connections. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as Assistant Director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission on Air Quality,...