TREMONT, Maine – It is the Year 2060. President Arabella Rose Kushner, the grand daughter of Donald Trump, steps off the Marine One helicopter to visit the devastation left behind by one of the mightiest storm surges in history which nearly wiped out the villages here.
Ten persons lost their lives – swept out to sea – and both the villages of Bernard and Bass Harbor will have to be either rebuilt or abandoned as unsalvageable.
“Well, it is what it is,” President Kushner said. “We can’t control acts of God. I’ll send some FEMA people here and see what we can do about cleaning up this mess.
“Those climate fanatics … what did they really accomplish?” Kushner said. “We built the breakwater like they wanted, and here we still have this mess.”
Kushner posed for a photo in front of the signature local business – a lobster pound which collapsed, its yellow awning flapping in the wind – then boarded the helicopter after 20 minutes for her flight back to Bangor where Air Force One awaited to take her to Washington. She turns to an aide: “get me out of this sh–hole.”
Fifty-six years ago scientists had warned that Tremont would be the worst hit town on MDI as the result of a rising sea.
They specifically called out Tremont Consolidated School as a building facing disaster (see photo below). Multiple storm surges since then made the building uninhabitable. In 2034, the town was forced to disperse its students to schools in neighboring towns on the island.
The 2006 study concluded that Tremont would lose 371 acres of land or 4 percent of the town if the sea rose 3 feet. The study by the natural Resource Council of Maine used simple topography maps to render its findings in 2006.
In total, the towns of MDI would lose 1,074 acres if the sea were to rise by 3 feet. Here was a calculator of multiple scenarios used at the time. http://corpsmapu.usace.army.mil/rccinfo/slc/slcc_calc.html
In August 2020, an important committee of scientists recommended that the Maine Climate Council “consider preparing to manage for 3.0 feet of relative sea level rise by 2050, and 8.8 feet of sea level rise by the year 2100.” That was its most dire prediction.
In fact the actual sea rise was much worse. The water around MDI had risen almost 5 feet by 2055.
There was ample warning even after that first report. Photos from that era showed buildings only a foot or two above the water in Bass Harbor and Bernard. On Aug. 14, 2020, the average temperature taken in the Gulf of Maine was almost 70 degrees (69.87). The prior record was 68.99 degrees Fahrenheit on Aug. 23, 2012. The records date back to 1982, when scientists began collecting satellite data on the gulf’s surface temperature.
Humans were already late in checking carbon emissions and other causes of climate change, but the coup de grace was delivered by the United States in 2017 when it pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. Eight years under Donald Trump were devastating as the U.S. walked back all its commitments and even induced more carbon emissions. That was followed by eight years of President William Barr, who sought to imprison anyone who suggested climate change was caused by human kind.
But back in 2020, the Maine Climate Council did not equivocate on the potential devastation wrought by the rising seas.
“A 1-foot increase in sea level in the future will lead to a 15-fold increase in the frequency of “nuisance” flooding,” the committee said. “A 1-foot increase in sea level, which could occur by 2050, would cause a “100-year storm” flood level to have a probability of occurring once in every 10 years. Not accounting for changes in storm intensity or frequency, this would result in a 10-fold increase in coastal flooding in Maine in the next 30 years.”
And the increase would come in fits and starts, it said.
“Abrupt sea level change on the order of months, rather than years, can also occur on top of the long-term rise. Several months between 2009 and 2011 saw higher than normal sea levels, with a peak in 2010 of nearly a foot above the level in previous winters. Along the East Coast of the United States, this abrupt change was most pronounced in the Gulf of Maine.”
For those interested in historical references you may read the full subcommittee report here. https://www.maine.gov/future/sites/maine.gov.future/files/inline-files/GOPIF_STS_ClimateImpactsMaineReport_Final.pdf
In fact that’s exactly what happened. The Gulf of Maine saw another surge in temperature and sea rise in 2029-30, flooding much of the low-lying areas from Tremont to Pretty Marsh. Roads were made inaccessible. The Army Corps of Engineers erected several temporary bridges to evacuate persons trapped by the surge.
The rise in sea level also has had profound implications for Acadia National Park, whic had to shut down periodically to tend to unexpected circumstances. That has cut attendance by half – to under 2 million visitors a year from an average of 3.5 million a year.
As a result, Bar Harbor has had to make up for the loss in tourism revenue by increasing the number of cruise ships to 400 a year. To sate the tourists’ appetite for ephemeral honky tonk experiences, similar to that of the Atlantic City boardwalk, Bar Harbor built an amusement park with a ferris wheel on the grounds which was the waterfront Agamont Park.
Meanwhile, the carriage roads of the park, buried under a tidal wave of rainfall, could not be maintained by the limited staff and were shut down permanently in 2040.
In 2015, the Northeast Climate Adaption Science Center had written:
“Longer warm seasons raise public demand to open the park earlier and close later, affecting traditional staffing and maintenance schedules. Warming also puts the Park’s ecosystems at risk of diseases and invasive species, as well as changed habitat suitability. Rainfall events are occurring in heavier downpours, washing out the Park’s historic carriage roads and hiking trails. Along the coast, the popular ‘Thunder Hole’ and other exhibits along the Park’s main loop road, including the road itself, are at risk of inundation as sea level rises and storm surges intensify.”
The park service simply did not have the staffing nor resources to continue to repair attractions like the Thunder Hole platform which were regularly destroyed by storm surges.
MDI also lost 30 percent of its natural vegetation and animal species which has been extant on the island for 5,000 years. The increased penetration of salt water into the aquifers and marshes around its low-lying areas destroyed habitats and fresh water wells.
The main entry and egress on and off Mount Desert – Trenton Bridge – was only open during low tide. Delivery trucks, off-island workers and visitors backed up for miles to await the low tide. MDI became the Mont-Saint-Michel of Maine which actually drew more tourists who wanted to experience going onto a water-locked island at tide-controlled periods.
In 2020, the Maine Climate Council had warned:
“Over about the last century, sea levels along the Maine coast have been rising at about 0.6 to 0.7 feet/century (1.8 to 2 mm/ year) or two times faster than during the past 5,000 years. Over the past few decades, the rate has accelerated to about 1 foot/ century (3 to 4 mm/year) or three times the millennial rate.”
“This is just part of a weather cycle which has been with human kind forever,” said Bill Peterson, a lobsterman who fishes out of Southwest Harbor. “We’re just about to turn the corner when the weather will start to cool. Trump was a great president who refused to lead us down an expensive and unproven path. Thank god his family is still running this country.”
Rising Seas Part 2 …
SOMESVILLE, Oct. 10, 2020 – I got quite a visceral reaction on social media from climate deniers to my attempt last week to foreshadow our island in 2060 when the seas will have risen 5.5 feet around us.
The wags were out in full force when I posited that rising seas will doom parts of MDI :
“It’s called tides … “
“Polar ice has been melting forever …”
“If you don’t like the water level, wait six hours …”
“It’s not the rising seas, those buildings shouldn’t have built there …”
Then there was this email from a reader:
“As I live on Shore Road the picture you posted from the corner of Mansell and Shore hit home as the area frequently floods with a high tide and full moon,” she wrote. “It will only get worse as our seas continue to rise.
“I attended (via Zoom) a discussion that the SWH library hosted by the Nature Conservancy which also addressed this issue. The folks at the Nature Conservancy have a wonderful website at maps.coastalresilience.org/maine that shows what areas would be inaccessible to emergency services with rising sea levels. If you go to the website click on Coastal Risk Explorer on the bottom left hand side, input Southwest Harbor as the town and you can see what the impact would be at different levels of sea level rise. It’s a sobering scenario.”
Two days after my fictionalized account, Bill Trotter of the Bangor Daily News reported that the town of Damariscotta is spending $4 million to protect its downtown from the rising sea. https://bangordailynews.com/2020/10/05/news/midcoast/this-midcoast-town-is-preparing-to-spend-4m-to-hold-back-the-rising-river-passing-through-it/
In September Trotter filed this … https://bangordailynews.com/2020/09/16/news/towns-contend-with-sewer-overflows-flooding-and-more-as-gulf-of-maine-keeps-warming/
The wags may be right. The sea is not rising. Oh, and Covid is no worse than the flu.