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Interior Dept. examines potential damage to parks from sea-level rise

  • Author: Erica Martinson
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published June 23, 2015

The Interior Department found more than $40 billion in historic and cultural resources on national park lands are at risk from sea-level rise, according to a report released Tuesday.

The review looked at 40 of 118 "at risk" national park areas, and none in Alaska. But Interior is already investigating climate change-related sea level rise in 30 more areas -- including four in Alaska.

The report, produced by the National Park Service and Western Carolina University, is part of a full-court press by the Obama administration to demonstrate the high costs of climate change. The effort comes as the administration hopes to convince the public to support regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions, especially from the nation's power plants. A final rule setting state-by-state caps on carbon emissions, one of the main components of earth-warming greenhouse gas, is due out later this summer.

"Climate change is visible at national parks across the country, but this report underscores the economic importance of cutting carbon pollution and making public lands more resilient to its dangerous impacts," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.

Costs come from damage to infrastructure, like roads, bridges and docks, especially due to increasingly damaging storms, as well as risks of some disappearing archeological sites. Interior cited scientists' projections that the nation can expect a 3-foot rise in sea level in the next 100 to 150 years.

But in some areas of Alaska, the impact is different -- "relative sea-level is decreasing because as land-based glaciers and ice sheets melt, land mass is actually rising faster than sea-levels," the Interior Department said Tuesday. That's because the weight of the ice is removed from the land surface.

So far, the report's authors have looked at 40 of 118 national parks the Park Service considers vulnerable to sea level rise, including two of the most visited parks -- Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.

Interior is currently working on two new reports -- one providing park managers with adaptation strategies for protecting coastal assets, and another looking at the next 30 coastal areas on the list.

Four places in Alaska in the National Park System are among the next 30 to undergo review: the Aniakchak Preserve; Bering Land Bridge National Preserve; Cape Krusenstern National Monument; and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

On the list of 118 parks not yet scheduled for review are six Alaska parks: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve; Katmai National Park; Kenai Fjords National Park; Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park; Lake Clark National Park; and Sitka National Historic Park.

"Hopefully, this project will help to bring attention to the serious need for broader guidance related to climate change adaptation, not only at the park level, but also by the NPS regional and national levels," the report says.

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