WOODS HOLE — The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is one of the leading organizations focused on ocean research, exploration and education. Its vessels roam the world’s oceans, their researchers explore the deepest oceanic canyons and the shallows of a salt marsh.
For an institution that has experienced, researched and documented the impacts of climate change on the ocean, it follows that when it contemplated building a new $100 million dock and waterfront support facilities, WHOI would incorporate sea-level rise into their planning.
“This is critical infrastructure to what we do,” said Rob Munier, WHOI vice president for marine facilities and operations. “Others can contemplate alternatives, including retreat (from the waterfront), but we have to be there. It’s part of our ability to do our mission.”
WHOI’s Woods Hole marine operations facilities are home to the 274-foot global research vessel Atlantis, which has six labs, is mothership to the deep-diving sub, Alvin, and can carry two dozen scientists and 36 crew to destinations worldwide. Woods Hole is also home port for the new 238-foot research vessel Neil Armstrong and the 60-foot Tioga.
The dock, which was built in 1969, is past its estimated 50-year lifespan and is increasingly costly to maintain.
“That caused us to do a deep dive into understanding sea-level rise,” Munier said.
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WHOI partnered with the nearby NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center and Marine Biological Laboratory to fund a study by the Woods Hole Group to evaluate the impact of sea-level rise and storm surge on each facility, and the Woods Hole village area, out to the year 2100 under various global warming scenarios.
The Woods Hole Group looked at data from the Massachusetts Coastal Flood Risk Model that projected sea-level rise, including ice sheet melting, would increase by 1.27 feet over 2008 levels by 2030, 2.57 feet by 2050 and nearly 8 feet by 2100. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change model under a global warming scenario in which the atmosphere warms by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius tracked similar sea-level rise up until 2050, but higher levels after that to over 10 feet by 2100.
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The Woods Hole Group study found that the three research institutions would experience so-called “nuisance” flooding (non-storm inundation due to tidal cycles) 13 days a year by 2050 and 78 days by 2100. Those are days when parking lots, docks, and some buildings and labs would not be useable.
By 2050, storm surge from what is known as a 100-year storm (major storms that have been happening more frequently) would impact 87% of MBL’s assets and 93% of WHOI’s, the study found.
“We’re using this effort to look at a range of options for our campus,” Paul Speer, MBL CEO, said.
MBL has a major renovation of its Lillie Laboratory building coming up and Speer said it would be looking for ways to make it more resistant to the impacts of climate change, including moving critical mechanical systems such as heating, cooling and electrical, from the ground floor to an upper floor above future sea level and storm inundation levels.
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The Woods Hole Group analysis noted that the Northeast Fisheries Science Center aquarium, maintenance and gear sheds, and vessel power supply are all considered vulnerable to sea-level rise. The report said that NOAA has decided to take an adaptive approach, gradually waterproofing and elevating some facilities and installing modular barriers to protecting buildings as needed.
NOAA officials have been investigating building a new facility for a number of years now. There has been speculation the building may be moved to another location off-Cape.
“We (NOAA) made a strong case that we wanted to stay here to collaborate with fellow scientists (at other research institutions) in Woods Hole,” NOAA spokeswoman Shelley Dawicki said.
A new $199,841 Coastal Resilience Grant from Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management will help link the work being done by WHOI, MBL and NOAA with coastal adaptation planning by the town of Falmouth, Speer said. It’s important, he said, for the research institutions to plan how to protect their facilities but also to coordinate with the town on protecting vital infrastructure such as roadways.
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“There are no easy answers, we are still in the assessment process,” Falmouth Town Manager Julian Suso said. Falmouth’s Coastal Resilience Action Committee has been working on a townwide study and recommendations that are expected to be released later this year.
WHOI to replace dock, building with an eye toward 2100 sea-level rise
WHOI has the most immediate need for replacing its dock and support buildings. Munier said the institution decided to build with an eye on meeting the projected sea-level rise in the near term and distant future.
Current planning is for the new dock to be 2½ feet higher than the existing dock with the future option of either laying another dock surface on top to adapt to higher sea levels beyond that height or use steel pilings that can be hydraulically jacked up to a new height.
The new building, which will combine various support services occupying separate buildings now, will include high bays that can service vessels such as Alvin and others that need vertical space and a crane for repair and upgrades. The new building will also house robotics labs, which are expanding in use for research applications.
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WHOI’s current proposal calls for the dock and the base of the new building to be elevated 2½ feet above its current height with the possibility of being raised an additional 1½ feet in the future.
Munier said WHOI is relying on some state and federal grants and fundraising for the money to pay the estimated $100 million needed to complete the project. He’s hoping to have the project shovel-ready by the middle of next year, hopefully in time to qualify for money from the new federal infrastructure bill.
“I’m so glad that WHOI is taking the lead on building with sea-level rise considerations,” said Shannon Hulst, Barnstable County flood plain coordinator. “I hope we see more commercial structures doing it.”
Contact Doug Fraser at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dougfrasercct.
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