Maryland and Delaware 2050 Forecast

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all of our friends in Delaware and Maryland!  This state-level forecast builds on what I shared in my 2050 forecast for the Northeastern region.  These two states are facing very similar challenges today, and they’re on the same path forward as they deal with transformative changes to their coastal landscapes. 

For both Maryland and Delaware, you’re talking about a big coastal cultural presence, and a big coastal-facing economy.  We can’t just talk about changes to the land and changes to the sea separately for these states, because the systems are so intertwined.  It’s not gonna be a big shock to anyone that sea level rise is the major challenge here in our 2050 forecast.  But, especially in these estuary-rich coastlines, and these flood-sensitive coastlines, rising seas have complex impacts.  Delaware, for example, is looking at potential power issues- our projected high-end of sea level rise for 2050 will double the number of vulnerable power plants in the state, putting about a GW of generation capacity at risk. 

Let’s take a look at where the coastline itself will experience dramatic changes.  I’m afraid that in these states, we are looking at community inundation.  We’ll check out the worst affected areas first.

Sea Level Rise Viewer:

-Delaware- housing inundation around Wilmington

-Maryland- flooding by Ocean Pines, inundation by Ocean City.  Inundation by Crisfield.  Annapolis very vulnerable to flooding.

-Ghost Forest areas- from southern New Jersey to Maryland. Saltwater incursion causing forest die-back.

This is an upsetting overview, I know.  But if you are in these areas, don’t panic.  This isn’t coming all at once, and I bet you are already seeing warning signs.  Increased tidal flooding, increased beach erosion, starting to see some pines die.  It has to be said.  On these shores, there are many places where there’s a limited capacity to stop what’s coming.  But you saw that many other places, they are looking at much more manageable challenges.  Identifying places where it makes sense to dig in, where it’s worth it to invest, that’s going to be key to resilience in these vulnerable coastal states. 

And there is a lot of work being done in these states to build resilience.  With these big projected sea rise impacts, we’ve seen how that’s going to impact some agricultural and natural areas directly, and you can imagine there are also indirect impacts.  Not just through flooding, but through saltwater incursion.  Delaware is doing some work to test transitional salt-tolerant crops, like seashore mallow, in agricultural areas vulnerable to incursion.  That could keep them productive during the transition, and create a more healthy landscape transition with the presence of native transitional plants.  In Maryland, the Living Shorelines project supports property owners as it accepts and helps scaffold the coming changes, preparing the coastline for transition by moving away from concrete and other “hard” stabilizers, and towards “soft” stabilizers like sand and marsh development.  These actually do more to prevent coastal erosion and mitigate the impacts of the rise, and they don’t mean a big cleanup once rise does overtop an area.

But on the marsh front, you do have another challenge.  Invasive nutria are getting into the southern end of Maryland, and they’re likely to get all the way up into Delaware by 2050.  They eat everything, they’re turning marsh into shallow open water, and that’s going to hurt our ability to buffer against climate change.  So keep an eye out for these guys.  They’re jerks, if you live up in a part of the peninsula where they haven’t yet invaded, it’s worth thinking about preventative trapping.  It’s worth noting they were introduced to the continental US because they were a valuable fur species, they were introduced as a substitute for mink that would also be decent to eat, as they are a vegetarian animal.  You may not want to consider that, based on their appearance, but there are an awful lot of enthusiastic recipes for them out there.

Let’s take a few minutes to look at the projected changes to the summer and winter, that’ll help us see why the nutria are going to be able to move all the way up that coastline. 

HEAT- 1 month plus heatup.  Worst at the northern border of Maryland

HARDI, some zone 6 retreat, but the big story is zone 8 expansion.

That zone 8 expansion, that’s what’s going to really allow the migration of southern species into your area, including those invasive nutria.  But let’s take a minute and think about what these changes will feel like.  Western Maryland, up against the mountains, is looking at some big changes, with a major increase in summer heat duration, but there is enough winter cool preservation that you will probably maintain some winter snow.  Nice for your cultural continuity.  Looking towards the sea, the whole peninsula will be kinda similar to Myrtle Beach is today.  And we know that area is a tourist destination, is thought by many to be a pleasant climate.

So in areas where it’s worth digging in, it’s worth thinking about this as a climate with perhaps more year-round tourism potential, not just a summer destination.  With the living shorelines approach to sea level rise, working to construct and encourage a beach, to construct and encourage a new estuary, these are the kinds of innovative, forward-thinking approaches that will lead to opportunity.  Across America, if you create habitat, there is already a teeming flood of life looking to get in there.  There’s no place that’s more true than in this incredibly biologically rich area, with great physical land and sea connections that would allow for species to migrate. 

In many states, like in my forecast for Ohio, I kinda touch on the fact that there isn’t a great migration corridor for native species to get to what will become a solid new climate for them.  People will have to do a lot of work to introduce transitional species in some of these states.  But that’s not the case for Maryland and Delaware.  If you focus on habitat creation, you are going to get just a flood of natural species infill, and you shouldn’t think all of them are going to be problem children like those nutria. 

In my area, for example, we have a good ecosystem cline with a current dryer, hotter area, and I have seen a lot of native plants and animals move in over the last five years through natural range expansion.  Supporting healthy relationships between native species is a whole different ballgame, much easier, than trying to support ecosystem transitions in areas with limited natural migration capacity.

And the more we can encourage rich ecosystems, rich natural systems, to move up this coast, the more we can build economic resilience.  You might know that the shellfish harvests in this area have had more problems lately with bacterial contamination, and that can be fatal to consumer.  As we get more intense rains with the changing climate, and that trend is going to intensify, we can get more sewer overflow, contaminating shellfish beds.  Improving what we conventionally think of as water infrastructure- our pipes and things- is only one part of the solution here.  Focusing on wetlands development, on marsh infill as the area warms, will help provide natural cleaning services to the water, improving your coastal and estuary harvests. 

There is a future for these beautiful states that is rich, with healthy fisheries and healthy cities.  Not only an awareness, but a genuine embrace of change is the only thing that will bring that about.  Both Maryland and Delaware, more than many states, are going to need to engage in some strategic retreat from the rising seas, and then develop resilience from these fallback positions.  You need as much or more buffer between the sea and your communities than you had a hundred years ago, what with the increased storm intensity.  And much of that buffer zone will need to be nurtured, like a garden.  But nature is going to do more than you think to help you, there.  If you build it, they will come.  Not just species that will help prevent coastal erosion and clean your water, but species that will help drive year-round tourism opportunities, and species that will drive increased commercial fishing opportunities. 

That’s my advice to you.  Identify places for retrenchment, embrace the new, and look out for nutria.  You have some precious areas that are being lost to the sea, but that doesn’t take away your future, in a climate with pleasant year-round potential.

               This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out.  Please like and subscribe, help get the message out there.  There is hope.  We can prepare for what’s coming.  Let’s get ready.