Rising Sea Levels Seen In South Carolina

South Carolina is famous for coastal vacation areas such as Hilton Head and its natural beauty has been a draw for decades. Tragically,coastal landscapes are being altered by one of the main impacts of climate change: rising seas. You will have to go into less developed and less popular areas though to see the most evidence of what is likely to be our future living with climate change.

Image Credit: Billy Hathorn
Image Credit: Billy Hathorn

Salt water has been increasingly present in the freshwater Strawberry Swamp area. (The closest town is Georgetown on Winyah Bay.) The result of the extra salt water is many dying trees. The area of salt marsh there has quadrupled in size, due to more and more salt water  moving into it. The remarkable increase occurred over a span of six decades, so to the untrained eye, it probably was not all that noticeable, though it was happening continuously. The sea level rise was probably about 3 – 4 millimeters a year over the past century. (There are 25.4 millimeters per inch, so 4 millimeters is just about one-sixth of an inch.) In other words, it would take about six years for there to be one inch of sea level rise.

However, the rate of sea level rise has been greater over the last two decades than in previous ones. The main losers in this gradual sea level creep are wild species, because their habitat is slowly altered. Species accustomed to living in salt marshes can be forced to relocate, but if there isn’t any salt marsh left where do they go?

As you have probably noticed, this problem is one that is sort of hiding in plain sight. Most people are probably much more concerned with human assets, such as boardwalks, roads, marinas and other waterfront infrastructure. Particularly, the interest is in commercial structures like hotels, condos, homes and small businesses.

Of course, this concern is sensible because people want to protect their investments and their own financial viability. However, humans are not separate from Nature. If the natural world is being damaged and destroyed our economic viability is threatened. Though many homeowners and business people are probably not all that concerned about a freshwater swamp gradually dying, we all need to be able to understand the significance of these signs.

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