Sea-level rise will have a significant impact on coastal communities as the world warms in the coming decades. But it happens too slowly to easily see.

Now, designers Erik Jensen and Rebecca Sunter want to give people a tangible way to mark the change. They’ve proposed “Climate Chronograph,” a new memorial in Washington, D.C., and it’s one of four final designs in a competition by the National Park Service.

Their idea is to plant a field of cherry trees on Hains Point – a vulnerable spot for sea-level rise in the nation’s capital. As the saltwater floods the land, the trees closest to the shore will begin to die. And as the years pass, row after row of trees will turn brown, providing a visible marker of rising seas. A raised walkway will allow visitors to see the results.

Climate Chronograph illustration

Sunter: “This is about public witness and bringing a living observatory to a sometimes politically charged topic. Nature is going to author it, and that’s not for any of us to debate or speculate. We can just kind of watch.”

The winning idea will be announced on September 8th. But win or lose, Jensen and Sunter will offer the idea to other coastal cities – so more people can see the effects of climate change with their own eyes.

Reporting credit: Analeah Rosen/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Illustration: Used with permission.

More Resources
National Capital Planning Commission: Memorials For the Future
National Park Service: Memorials For the Future

Sara Peach is the editor-in-chief of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist,...