Elevated sea levels will render Tangier Island unlivable in the following 50 years, as habitable land near Chesapeake Bay gradually becomes engulfed by water.
This prediction was made in a study which was commissioned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and has been published on Thursday, December 10, in the journal Scientific Reports.
A team of experts led by oceanographer David M. Schulte conducted the research, by studying cartographic resources and aerial images, detailing the island’s geography between 1850 and 2013.
Afterwards, a computer simulation was carried out, in order to see how the island would survive coastal erosion, global warming and the gradual sinking of the Chesapeake Bay in the following decades.
It was determined that the region will have to be evacuated in the next half a century, but in a worst-case scenario this could happen much sooner, in the next 25 years.
Therefore, current estimates are that residents of the Tangier Island, located at the center of Chesapeake Bay, may become some of the first victims of climate change in the United States.
The small community, nicknamed the “soft-shell crab capital of the world” is made up of fewer than 800 inhabitants, who depend mostly on fishing and tourism so as to earn a living.
A large portion of the island has been included on the National Register of Historic Places, given the fact that the population uses an American-English dialect specific to bygone times.
More precisely, the language that is spoken in this small town from Accomack County, Virginia, is reminiscent of the one that was employed during the English Restoration, which commenced in 1660.
The community, whose history and culture are so rich and fascinating, may have to be displaced in the following decades, as land is gradually swollen by the sea.
According to study author David M. Schulte, Tangier island can be considered one of the most at risk regions across the nation, due to its precarious location.
Despite the fact that the region extends for around 768 acres, just around 83 of them are actually fit for human habitation, and even this surface is rapidly dwindling, as a result of soil erosion.
Given that the most elevated point of the island is a mere 4 feet above sea level, and global warming is leading to a progressive rise in global sea levels, by around 4.4 millimeters per year, it appears that the days of this picturesque community are numbered, as researchers believe the town will become unlivable by the year 2063.
This means that the island may soon share the fate of Uppards Island, which was eventually evacuated in 1929, following a major hurricane. Uppards will finally be submerged by 2113, but another neighboring island, called Goose, will face this outcome much sooner, by 2038.
However, representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers believe that there are still measures that could be taken in order to allow Tangier Island to remain habitable for a longer length of time.
This would entail investing approximately 20 to 30 millions of dollars in coastal management, by building breakwaters and ridges in order to protect the island from increasingly more threatening waves.
Other elements of infrastructure could also be added, such as dunes lined with trees, for the same purpose of preventing flooding and greater damage to the already unstable area.
On the other hand, island residents such as Carol Pruitt-Moore are much less optimistic, and believe that the island will sink in a much shorter time interval.
According to them, when the next major storm strikes, the already vulnerable Tangier will no longer be considered safe, and everyone will have to leave their homes and move elsewhere.
Image Source: Flickr