One college takes steps to protect itself from rising sea levels

What can a campus do in response to the climate crisis? The United States Naval Academy just offered one course of action.

The main thing the Maryland-based USNA is doing it repairing and extending the Farragut Field Sea Wall, according to an official statement. “The project aims to repair and raise the height of the seawall to address daily high tides and minor storms out to the year 2100.”

The project includes repairs to the sheet pile bulkheads along Farragut Field and the southeast side of Santee Basin. A new sheet pile wall will be constructed outboard of the existing one. A new tieback system will be constructed inland of the existing for lateral stability. The project will provide critical structural protection for the Naval Academy against floods and future sea level rise.

There’s more to come: “Future plans include adding earthen berms to protect the Naval Academy from storm surge[s].”

And, according to the secretary of the Navy:

“This sea wall is the first in a series of climate-related improvements from the Naval Academy’s comprehensive Installation Resilience Plan that I am personally committed to,” said Del Toro. “And this is just one achievement among many more past, present, and future.”

Calls and plans to do something along these lines date back at least to 2019.  I’ve written about this in Universities on Fire (now available for pre-order).

A few reflections:

First, in my four-point scheme, this action falls under the Adaptation header.  It’s not mitigating nor does it represent migration. It does seek to conserve, in terms of protecting the institution’s physical grounds, so perhaps we can locate the move angled in that direction, like so:

climate compass US Naval Academy

Second, this seawall project isn’t a one-off.  Institutionally, the Academy now has a climate crisis portfolio:

This project is the first in a series of improvements from the Naval Academy’s Installation Resilience Plan that provides a comprehensive project portfolio, and year-to-year execution strategy to cohesively address and mitigate the combined effects of flooding caused by land subsidence, sea level rise, storm surge, and changes in groundwater elevations. It uses the most recent projections recommended by the USNA Sea Level Rise Advisory Council and the DoD Regional Sea Level database.

Think about running this portfolio as an academic position. Or an office.  Or one local instance of a shared service.  The announcement lays some groundwork for the latter by noting that it’s not just this Academy that’s in danger:

With almost 3,200 miles of shoreline, Maryland is particularly vulnerable to threats from rising sea levels, flooding, and intensifying storm activity. Annapolis, and by proxy the Naval Academy, is ground-zero for sea level rise on the East Coast – NOAA reports that Annapolis experienced nine high tide flood days in 2021 and predicts that the city will endure as many as 115 high tide flood days by 2050,” said [Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.].

Third, this is just one story of one higher education institution out of 20,000 or so around the world.  The seawall idea won’t apply to all circumstances – indeed, not to most, since most campuses aren’t close to rising seas. But it does represent a key idea: a concrete example of action being taken in anticipation of the climate crisis worsening.



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One Response to One college takes steps to protect itself from rising sea levels

  1. Interesting, Bryan. I am an alumni and was just there last month for my 50th reunion!

    From a leadership perspective, adaptive was a base concept I learned at Annapolis. Rather than a set of standard operating procedures (what you must do), the Navy has for the past century set out what you could not do…leaving what you did to the local commander’s choice. When you sail over the horizon, you do not know what you will face, so having options is important.

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