Downtown Charleston Flooding

The intersection of Wentworth St and Barre St during a king tide event.

Downtown Charleston, South Carolina, which sits nearly at sea-level, deals with periodic flooding events whether its caused by the king tides, a heavy summer thunderstorm, or storm surge from a hurricane at least several times a year. Currently, the city usually sees around 11 days of “sunny-day flooding” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA for short. Sunny day flooding are days of urban flooding caused only by astronomical forces that influence greater tides. When high tides are higher than usual, this excess water is pushed up the drainage system and onto vulnerable city streets like the intersection of Wentworth and Barre Streets, Fishburne and Hagood Streets, or Morrison Dr as examples as these streets are usually the first to flood during a sunny-day event. Sunny-day floods are problematic as major vehicular arterials can be closed for hours at a time and property can be damaged. Add a heavy summer thunderstorm to the equation and you might as well shut down the whole city for the rest of the day.

The Union of Concerned Scientists anticipates Charleston, SC may see an average of 180 days of sunny day flooding by the year 2045.

However, as sea levels continue to rise, the number of sunny-day flood events have as well in recent years. Trends already show that Charleston is feeling much of the impact coming from sea-level rise. In the 1970s, the City of Charleston only saw an average of 2 tidal flooding events each year compared to the 11 days we see each year now. As sea levels continue to rise, the number of sunny flooding days will rise as well. The Union of Concerned Scientists predicts Charleston will see 180 days, or roughly 1 in 2 days out of the year, of sunny day flooding by the year 2045. While this is just one prediction and others may show different results, all models show the number of days increasing and this should have residents worried.

Mean water level data conducted in the Charleston Harbor showing a linear increase of water level has occurred over the last 100 years.

Luckily for residents, the City of Charleston has accepted that flooding will continue to be a problem if something is not done and has a list of projects that need to be completed to combat the issue in the short term. One of these projects includes Division III of the Market Street Drainage Improvement Project, which starts this year and will take two and a half years to complete. The project will completely replace the current storm water collection system and link to three drop shafts to pump water out of the city. The project will also improve the surface streets to better allow water collection and add more aesthetic to the popular tourist attraction. The Market quickly floods during sunny-day flooding events and thunderstorms, so while it is unfortunate that taxpayers will be paying the brunt for this project, it will ultimately improve the quality of life in this area when it rains.

Photo of The Market during Hurricane Matthew. -ABC News

Unfortunately, many of these projects are expensive and will likely still take years or even decades just to be approved for construction. Also, flooding is a great challenge for most cities located near sea-level, and we will never be able to completely prevent flooding from ever occurring. While the city needs to improve infrastructure to keep up with the rising sea levels, I think it is also unsustainable if we are not building up as well. Eventually, if sea-level rise does continue, we will need to prevent water from coming into the city by other means. For example, what concerns me is that it will only take one direct hit of a powerful hurricane to wipe out everything that we are currently working so hard to keep up. It would take money that we probably do not have to prevent another major flooding event from eventually occurring again even with the infrastructure improvements we are currently making. I honestly cannot think of an effective and permanent solution, but I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens.

Increased Coverage of Beech Trees in the Northeastern U.S. – AP

Photo of an American Beech Tree

Summary of the Article

On February 25th, 2018, The Associated Press (AP) published an article about the increased coverage of American Beech trees seen in the Northeastern United States after researchers from the University of Maine and Purdue University released a report on their findings earlier in the year. Using data from the U.S Forest Services from 1983 to 2014, researchers were able to determine that the Hardwood Forests (also known as Beech-Birch-Maple Forests) of the Northeastern United States has seen a distinct increase in the coverage of beech trees in recent years while the presence of maple trees and birch trees have decreased during the same period. The researchers warn that the effects of climate change are likely the main driver of the latest rise in beech trees. They also warn that logging and timberland industries could be significantly impacted in the future as these industries rely heavily on the maple trees that grow in this ecosystem. However, other researchers say that the exact future impacts of climate change on the Northeastern Hardwood Forests are unknown.


A Changing Climate

One of the states that has seen an increase of beech trees is Vermont. In 2014, the Vermont Climate Assessment published a 219 page report on how weather patterns have and continue to change drastically over the last sixty years and that climate change will continue to have both positive and negative impacts on the State of Vermont’s economy and ecology in the future. The report, conducted and composed by a team of researchers at the University of Vermont, uses data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, climate experts, and other agencies to analyze how Vermont’s climate has and continues to change and develop scientific understanding to determine probable future outcomes based on available data. This report is similar to reports released by United States government agencies on a national scale, but with the intent to better communicate with the businesses and people of Vermont on how climate change could alter their economical future. While this report pertains to the state of Vermont, data on the report is still relevant to other states in the Northeast region as well since nearby states like New York, New Hampshire, and Maine have seen similar changes to their climate and even their hardwood forests.


Using a number of sites located throughout the state of Vermont, researchers find that the average annual temperature has increased 1.3°F since 1960 in Vermont.

Data complied onto the Vermont Climate Assessment shows a linear increase in the average annual temperature in the state of Vermont since 1960. Since 1960, the average annual temperature has increased 1.3­­°F statewide. While a degree increase in temperature may not sound like that much of a change, this increase in temperature can be enough to surpass the threshold of certain species within ecosystems and completely alter them. This could be one reason why there has been an increase in beech trees in recent years while maple and birch trees have decreased. The Vermont Climate Assessment also warns that further temperature increases could alter the forestry landscape of Vermont even more as trees suitable for warmer climates could move into the region and even replace trees currently in place. With that said, the trees that currently making up the Vermont landscape could dwindle as the climate becomes more unsuitable since different trees require different suitable conditions, and cannot adept to changes in climate.


Researchers of the Vermont Climate Assessment also used sites throughout the state to calculate that the average annual precipitation has increased 5.9″ since 1960 in Vermont. This graph shows that number of days per year with >1″ of rain has increased in recent years as well.


Data complied onto the Vermont Climate Assessment shows that while temperatures have risen linearly since 1960, precipitation rates have increased nearly exponentially in recent years. One explanation for this is since warmer air has a higher saturation mixing ratio, it is able to hold more water content therefore allowing more rain to fall over any given place. This effect is also likely elevated in mountainous regions due to orographic effects, where the increase in the coverage of beech trees can be most observed. With that said, if temperatures continue to warm, the average amount of precipitation Vermont sees in any given year will likely increase as well. Just like temperature, most of the precipitation increase has occurred within the last twenty years. Excessive rainfall can be beneficial to some species of trees while unfavorable to others.



With a changing climate, we should be prepared to experience changes to the environment as well. Unfortunately, there is a lot of uncertainty with what exactly to expect as we can see with the hardwood forests of the Northeastern United States. This should be worrisome to us since ecologists and environmentalists are unsure of what the future has in store for many ecosystems around the world but somehow we need to prepare for the change. More extreme scenarios of climate change would completely replace the hardwood forests in Vermont with trees more suitable in southern climates by the end of the century, likely completely transforming or pushing out economic industries (i.e. logging and timberland) that currently makeup a sizable portion of Vermont’s economy. Regardless of whether that happens or not, change is inevitable, and whatever happens industries and people will have to adapt to these changes over time.


The discussed article can be viewed here:

The Vermont Climate Assessment can be viewed here:

Chasing Coral – A Netflix Documentary

Chasing Coral


“Chasing Coral” is a gloomy but surprisingly hopeful film on the topic of coral bleaching and how climate change has escalated its impact in recent years. The director, Jeff Orlowski, also produced a film on climate change’s impact on arctic glaciers called “Chasing Ice” (2012). Orlowski even brings a few of the main cast members from his previous documentary to illustrate how climate change is a global issue. The film begins with shots of coral reefs and a monologue from Richard Vevers stating how vital coral reefs are for not only to marine life but for millions of humans as well. Vevers, concerned about the health of the reefs, started The Ocean Agency after working in advertising for many years. Vevers grew worried with the deterioration of coral reefs when he noticed that sea dragons were disappearing from his favorite spots. The goal of Vevers’ organization and this film is to better educate the public on coral reefs. He has and continues to work on doing just that by “bringing google street-view underwater” with a specially designed 360 degree camera that captures images every 3 seconds.

However, Vevers wanted to better illustrate coral bleaching and how quickly its impacts can take place, so a team of scientists and hobbyists came together to develop a way to make time-lapse cameras capable of staying underwater for four months without human interaction. Due to the intense pressure being so far underwater and other factors like hurricanes, the setup had to be very sophisticated to handle a plethora of issues. The team was able to develop the technology and set the cameras up in troubled spots in Hawaii, Bermuda, and the Bahamas. However, the team still ran into issues later on when retrieving the images. Despite setting the cameras onto manual focuses, all of the cameras became out of focus sometime when they were underwater making the footage useless. This required the team to come back together to find a way to prevent the cameras from becoming out of focus again, which was done by adding new lens to the cameras. The team then set out for new troubled locations along the Great Barrier Reef in Australia near Keppel Island and Huron Island. Fortunately for the reefs, a series of thunderstorms and a tropical cyclone brought cooler water to the region preventing a bleaching event.

Unfortunately for the team, this meant that they were not going to capture a bleaching event anytime soon. However, they received tips from residents on Lizard Island and New Caledonia that reefs in the area were undergoing a “strange event” so the teams quickly left their posts abandoning their time-lapse cameras. Instead, the time-lapse was recorded manually by having a scuba diver, like Zachary Rago, dive to the reefs every day and take pictures at several set spots everyday for several months. Rago and other divers were successfully able to obtain enough footage to show how coral bleaching destroyed the reefs within months. The footage was disheartening, but it effectively showed how coral bleaching can destroy an ecosystem in a relatively short amount of time. The documentary also concludes by stating that this is a global issue and shows videos of people all over the world sharing their experiences with coral bleaching.

Comparison photo shown in film showing a healthy reef becoming bleached.

The film ultimately states that the increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels is the main culprit behind the increased mass bleaching events. Animations and illustrations were used to show how this is the case. When fossil fuels are burned, they emit a gas called carbon dioxide (CO2), one of several greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases help to keep heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere or otherwise the Earth would be too cold for survival. However, since there is a higher concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere now, more heat is being deflected back to the ground. The ocean has a very high heat capacity, so this excess heat is mostly being absorbed by the oceans making them warmer. Unfortunately for coral reefs, they are not resilient to an increase in temperature so they begin to experience effects rather quickly. Raising surface ocean water temperatures 2 degrees Celsius (roughly 4 degrees Fahrenheit) can be enough to significantly impact and even kill certain reefs. Fluctuations in surface ocean water temperature is another normal natural phenomenon, but scientists feel that the recent upwards trend and the rate at which its increasing is to be blamed on greenhouse gases.

Coral Bleaching and Warming Oceans

Recorded sea surface temperatures compared to average between 1880-2015.

While coral bleaching is a natural phenomenon, the increased occurrence of widespread bleaching events in recent years has scientists all over the world worried about the future. With oceans continuing to warm on average, projections show that average surface sea temperatures could rise to the point it could support the mass extinction of coral reefs within our lifetime according to the documentary. How much sea surface temperatures will rise can be predicted and modeled, but it does not mean that they will come into fruition. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides several projections in the documentary on how much their experts believe sea surface temperatures will rise. One projects shows a linear path of rising temperatures while others show temperatures rising then leveling off at some point between now and 2100. There are many factors that can affect global sea surface temperatures, so it is not surprising that scientists cannot say for sure how much further the oceans could warm if greenhouse gases continue to be added to the atmosphere.

El Niño’s Impact?

Sea surface temperatures 2015-2016 showing strong El Niño event taking place.

The documentary also points out that in 2016, 29% of the Great Barrier Reef was killed off due to a massive coral bleaching event.  It is actually not too surprising that the Great Barrier Reef suffered so much in 2016, as a prolonged and very strong El Niño event was taking place for much of 2015 and into 2016. An El Niño occurs when warm water (usually 0.5 Celsius above average or higher) appears off the coast of Ecuador and Peru or along the equator in the Pacific Ocean usually during the winter. This warmer water impacts the global atmosphere resulting in adverse effects in different portions of the world. When an El Niño event is taking place, portions of the Northern Great Barrier Reef usually see dry and warm conditions which can aggravate coral bleaching episodes. Climate change could elevate the impacts of El Niño, but otherwise El Niño is a naturally occurring phenomenon that impacts the global sphere usually every couple years.


In conclusion, this documentary really helped me understand the issue of coral bleaching and how it can affect the human population as well. I personally knew about the issue of coral bleaching but I did not know how bad it actually was. The film is ultimately right about how this is also an issue of public knowledge and that a better way of communication is needed between scientists and the public. The organization has a website that I highly recommend checking out if you would like to get involved at:


This film can be viewed on Netflix here:

More information on El Niño:

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