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USA’s navy shipyards already threatened by climate change: storms, rising seas, and worse to come

U.S. Nuclear Fleet’s Dry Docks Threatened by Storms and Rising SeasDamage to key military shipyards would undermine the Pentagon’s ability to respond to military crises and counter China’s ambitions. Inside Climate News, By Nicholas Kusnetz NOV 19, 2018  PORTSMOUTH, Va. — At the foot of the Chesapeake Bay in southeast Virginia lies a Naval shipyard older than the nation itself. One of the country’s first warships was built here in 1799. So was the first battleship, and decades later the first aircraft carrier.Over a quarter millennium, Norfolk Naval Shipyard has been blockaded and burnt to the ground by the British, the Union and the Confederates, only to be rebuilt again and again to evolve into a hub of Naval power.

Today, it’s an essential maintenance facility for the nation’s fleet of nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers, and it’s facing a threat that could shut it down permanently.

Rising seas will likely engulf the shipyard by century’s end, but the reckoning for Norfolk and nearby military installations could come much sooner.

“They’re going to disappear” unless the Pentagon acts quickly to protect them, said Ray Mabus, Navy secretary under President Barack Obama.

The most immediate worry is a direct hit from a major storm. “It would have the potential for serious, if not catastrophic damage, and it would certainly put the shipyard out of business for some amount of time,” Mabus said. “That has implications not just for the shipyard, but for us, for the Navy.”

The shipyard is among the American military sites most vulnerable to climate change. Because of its role in maintaining the fleet, damage to the aging facility could undermine the Pentagon’s ability to respond to military and humanitarian crises and to counter China’s growing naval ambitions. …….

The dry docks “were not designed to accommodate the threats” of rising seas and stronger storms, according to a 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office. Navy officials warned the GAO that flooding in a dry dock could cause “catastrophic damage to the ships.”

Already, high-tide flooding is contributing to extensive delays in ship repairs, the GAO said, disrupting maintenance schedules throughout the nuclear fleet.

The Navy has erected temporary flood walls to protect the dry docks and has begun elevating some equipment. It also recently proposed a more permanent barrier and other projects to address flooding, part of a 20-year, $21 billion plan the Navy submitted to Congress this year to modernize its four shipyards.

But the new projects have yet to be approved by lawmakers……….

Climate change is threatening to impair the military’s ability to respond to crises and defend the nation, not only at the shipyard but throughout its operations. The Defense Department has publicly recognized this risk for at least 15 years. The Navy, in particular, understands what is at stake, with so many facilities along the coasts and its forces often the first to arrive on the scene of humanitarian crises triggered by extreme weather……….

Addressing climate change has become more difficult under President Donald Trump. His administration omitted mention of climate change in its first National Security Strategy and instead called for greater fossil fuel development. Trump rescinded an Obama executive order that, in part, sought to provide intelligence analysts with the most current climate science to better monitor potential global hotspots. Nearly all references to climate change were also stripped from the final draft of a survey about the effects of climate-driven weather on facilities.

Military officials have become reluctant to work openly on climate change in the current political environment, said Joan VanDervort, former deputy director for ranges, sea and airspace at the Pentagon. “They have gone underground. They’re doing the same work but calling it something different. They try to stay away from the words ‘climate change,’ and use words like natural resources and resiliency and terms like weather, hurricanes,” she said. When you omit “climate change as a priority related to our national security, it’s very difficult to get funding.”…………

Every Year You Wait, the Risk Goes Up

A decade ago, the chief of naval operations commissioned the National Research Council to study the implications of climate change on the Navy’s mission. The 2011 report warned that global warming would strain the service’s capabilities. More severe weather would trigger famine and mass migration, requiring more humanitarian aid. A thawing Arctic would stress the Navy’s fleet by opening a vast new arena to police in particularly harsh conditions. Rising seas and harsher storms would put bases at risk: 56 facilities worth a combined $100 billion would be threatened by about 3 feet of sea level rise (the list has not been made public).

It warned that the Navy needed to begin investing in protections immediately at facilities facing the greatest climate risks, and had only 10 to 20 years to begin work on the rest. Seven years later, there’s been little progress, said retired Rear Adm. Jonathan White, who led the Navy’s Task Force Climate Change before retiring in 2015.

“Many of those recommendations, most if not all, have gone unanswered,” he said. “Every year you wait to make decisions and take actions, the risk goes up. And I think the expense also goes up.”………..InsideClimate News reporter Neela Banerjee contributed to this story.

Read this next: Dangers Without Borders: Military Readiness in a Warming World


November 19, 2018 - Posted by | climate change, USA

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