Roughly 25 percent of U.S. national parks are vulnerable to rising sea levels because they’re situated in coastal areas. For years, the National Parks Service has had a report in the works to quantify how higher ocean tides and storm surges could impact its sites. But in April, Reveal found that in drafts of the publication, park officials had censored all mentions of human-caused climate change as an explanation for the encroaching waters.
The story prompted Democrats on the House Committee on Natural Resources to write a letter to the Department of the Interior requesting an investigation into the scientific integrity of the Parks Service. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said that he never changes reports before they go out.
In a follow-up, Reveal reported that when Maria Caffrey, a University of Colorado research assistant and the study’s lead author, fought the changes, officials said they could take her name off the paper or potentially not release it at all. “The fight probably destroyed my career with the (National Park Service) but it will be worth it if we can uphold the truth and ensure that scientific integrity of other scientists won’t be challenged so easily in the future,” she said.
Finally released Friday, the analysis illustrates how different levels of emissions would increase sea levels and storm surges near 118 national parks over roughly the next century. In the end, science prevailed: The report identifies human-caused climate change as the main culprit behind the rising sea levels that endanger the sites.
Here’s what the collaboration between the National Parks Service and the University of Colorado found:
- Rising seas will flood parks. By the end of the century, some sites in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, for example, could experience an ocean rise of nearly two-and-a-half feet. The researchers caution that this would submerge large parts of those parks.
- Wright Brothers National Memorial is predicted to face the largest sea-level rise. By 2100, the shoreline near the park is predicted to see up to a 2.7 foot increase under the most severe global warming situation they studied.
- Unsurprisingly, islands are at an increased risk. The authors note that for more remote national parks, like those in the Caribbean or the National Park of American Samoa, a storm surge could be particularly ruinous, as it’s difficult to deliver aid to those sites quickly.
- Overall, parks in the U.S. southeast are at highest risk for storm surges. For example, a category two hurricane would inundate Everglades National Park.
Now is the time to plan. The authors say that their findings can help inform parks as they adapt to a warming world that endangers their infrastructure and historical structures.