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Sea level rise "report card" from VIMS shows Norfolk rate accelerating

Tidal flooding at the Hague in Norfolk. (Image: Katherine Hafner)
Tidal flooding at the Hague in Norfolk. (Image: Katherine Hafner)

Norfolk has long experienced the fastest rate of sea level rise on the East Coast, factoring in not only rising waters but also the region’s slowly sinking land.

The city’s projected to hold onto that title, according to the latest analysis from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The institute, which is under William & Mary, releases annual sea level rise “report cards” looking at tide gauge data from Norfolk along with 31 other U.S. coastal areas.

“As sea level rise comes up, (Norfolk’s) kind of on the front lines. It’s one of the areas seeing impacts first,” Molly Mitchell, a VIMS research assistant professor, said in a video released alongside the report. 

Residents can expect both the depth and frequency of flooding to accelerate “dramatically, unless the city can adapt,” Mitchell said.

Here are the new report card’s biggest findings:

  • Norfolk’s sea level rise is accelerating by about 5.38 millimeters per year. That's the highest rate along the East Coast but has remained pretty steady in recent years compared to other spots including Charleston and Annapolis.
  • Along the entire U.S. coast, Rockport, Texas is projected to see the highest sea level rise by 2050, at nearly 2.5 feet.
  • About 85% of the locations analyzed saw an accelerating rate of sea level rise in 2022.

Mitchell emphasized it’s important for those in power to use the data.
“Although it can seem maybe scary or depressing that water’s coming up, knowing ahead of time gives us the opportunity to make decisions that reduce the impacts of that.”

Katherine is WHRO’s climate and environment reporter. She came to WHRO from the Virginian-Pilot in 2022. Katherine is a California native who now lives in Norfolk and welcomes book recommendations, fun science facts and of course interesting environmental news.

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