Sea level rise forces US space agency to retreat (Update)

May 20, 2014 by Kerry Sheridan
NASA's Curiosity rover, formally known as the Mars Science Laboratory, heads for space on November 26, 2011, atop an Atlas 5 rocket from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral in Florida

Sea level rise is threatening the majority of NASA's launch pads and multi-billion dollar complexes famous for training astronauts and launching historic missions to space, scientists said Tuesday.

From Cape Canaveral in Florida to mission control in Houston, the US space agency is busily building seawalls where possible and moving some buildings further inland.

Five of seven major NASA centers are located along the coast. Experts say that proximity to water is necessary for safety and logistics when launching rockets and testing spacecraft.

Many NASA centers have already faced costly damage from encroaching water, coastal erosion and potent hurricanes, said a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Perhaps the most iconic launchpad lies in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center, the lift-off point for the Apollo missions to the Moon and many space shuttle flights over the past three decades.

"According to NASA's planning and development office, rising sea levels are the single largest threat to the Kennedy Space Center's continued operations," said the report, which also listed various historic sites across the United States that also are threatened by sea level rise.

They include the Statue of Liberty in New York, the first permanent British colony in North America at Jamestown Island in Virginia, and historic Charleston, South Carolina.

"This really is just the tip of the iceberg," said UCS director of climate impacts Adam Markham.

"We need to make adaptation a national priority and bring resources where they are needed."

Building 'New Town'

One key NASA site that is succumbing to rising seas is Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, where 16,000 rockets have launched and where sea level has surged nine inches (23 centimeters) since it opened in 1945.

Others are Ames Research Center in San Francisco, which has experienced increasingly intense storms that have flooded some of its buildings in recent years, and Langley Research Center in Virginia, a $3.5 billion facility with specialized wind tunnels for simulating flight.

"Retreat is the way to go here, because you just can't like, get up and move. The infrastructure is too great," Russell De Young of the NASA science directorate at Langley told AFP.

"They are tearing down buildings that are at the water's edge and building new structures as far back as we can against the fence of the property line," he said.

The new complex is aptly named "New Town."

This NASA TV handout image shows an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket just moments before lifting off at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on January 9, 2014

De Young is among a handful of NASA employees who are tasked with monitoring climate change and analyzing the impacts it would have on NASA facilities.

President Barack Obama in 2009 called on all government agencies to take steps to prepare for climate change.

De Young said the space agency, like other government agencies with facilities on the coast, are trying to make incremental changes over the coming decades.

"This is not imminent," he said, noting that the forecast at Langley, which is in Hampton, Virginia, is for a five-foot (1.5-meter) sea level rise from the 1980s through the year 2100.

Still, there is concern for a facility he said was built on a marsh and is gradually sinking from its current position six to 10 feet above sea level—even as waters around it are rising.

"With sea level rise you can always manage it, but if a hurricane hits us, that is what worries us. The combination of the two is a devastating blow that we dread," said De Young.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi sustained $760 million in damage, the UCS report said.

Hurricane Ike smashed into Texas in 2008, damaging 160 buildings at Johnson Space Center and destroying the homes of 250 employees.

"Such damage may become more common as the climate changes: as sea surface temperatures warm, there is more energy to drive tropical storm winds," the report said.

Explore further: NASA signs agreement with SpaceX for use of historic launch pad

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User comments : 8

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alfie_null
5 / 5 (3) May 20, 2014
Floating launch platforms. You'd also gain the freedom to pick an optimal latitude.
vidyunmaya
2.5 / 5 (4) May 20, 2014
Sub: Wisdom
Every Launch with the associated plume of Pollutants should be viewed as a blow to Earth crust and the Sea water trying to balance the thrust.
why scientists are not exploring next generation launch-pads with reduced or no-impact on Earth and Environment ?
dedereu
1 / 5 (5) May 20, 2014
125000 years ago, the sea was 3 to 5 meters above the to day level of the sea, and the temperature 3°C above !!
This happened without any CO2 from the humans !!
The sea was rising more than 10 time faster 14000 years ago, more than 2meters every century !!
23cm to 30cm rise every century is very small and could be multiplied by ten if the Greenland and Antartica melt like 125000 years ago !!
Looking at the temperature over the last 5 millions years as shown on wikipedia, shows that the temperature and climate of the earth became very unstable oscillating strongly of more thane 10°C, at maximum in the last 125000 years !!
http://en.wikiped...ange.png
So we are sure, without any simulation or theory, that this very strong instability will amplify the tiny human CO2 heating and start an endless rise of sea level of more than 3 meters, in the next centuries !!
Sinister1812
not rated yet May 20, 2014
NASA should swap rockets for boats.
Uncle Ira
1 / 5 (1) May 20, 2014
I read the article a couple of times me. Can some smart Skippy tell me if they getting the feets and cms mixed up a couple of times? Or is ol Ira reading it wrong? I don't think that the 30 cms is the same as 5 feets.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (3) May 20, 2014
Floating launch platforms. You'd also gain the freedom to pick an optimal latitude.
SeaLaunch already does this.
Egleton
5 / 5 (1) May 24, 2014
Someone please tell NASA to use Orbital Airships.
.
The first 10kms is a gas lift the next 100 is by rocket and the last thrust is by ion accelerator through the axis.
Forget helium-we need it for our MRI scanners. Use hydrogen. It yields 1.2kg/cu m. deadlift as opposed to 1kg/cu m for helium.
Caliban
5 / 5 (1) May 31, 2014
I read the article a couple of times me. Can some smart Skippy tell me if they getting the feets and cms mixed up a couple of times? Or is ol Ira reading it wrong? I don't think that the 30 cms is the same as 5 feets.


@Ira,

Maybe it was an error that was corrected in the (Update)? The article now reads:

"This is not imminent," he said, noting that the forecast at Langley, which is in Hampton, Virginia, is for a five-foot (1.5-meter) sea level rise from the 1980s through the year 2100.