Climate change could damage NASA’s space program

Climate change could damage NASA’s space program
The effects of climate change are already showing up along American coastlines from Miami to Alaska, but Florida geologists are particularly concerned about sea level rise at Cape Canaveral – home to the Kennedy Space Center.

University of Florida geologists say climate change that includes sea level rise and wave energy could affect operations at the space center within the next decade. They’ve been studying the dunes and beach at Cape Canaveral since 2009, but it wasn’t until Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern seaboard in 2012 that the effects became more apparent – areas that had been stable for years were suddenly gone.

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"We were a little blind to it, like pre-Katrina New Orleans," Assistant Professor Peter Adams, of the UF Geological Sciences department told "Now that we've seen it, we're sensitive to it."

The geologists said effects are occurring now and they are affecting NASA infrastructure. The dunes that historically protected the Kennedy Space Center were leveled during Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. And a stretch of beachfront railroad track built in the 1960s was repeatedly covered in recent storms.

We do consider sea level rise and climate change to be urgent,” said Nancy Bray, director of center operations for the Kennedy Space Center.

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NASA isn’t just paying attention to outer space, though, and it has plans for dealing with the effects of stronger tropical storms and more powerful hurricanes. They originally partnered with the US Geological Survey and University of Florida to conduct research into why chronic erosion was occurring along a six-mile stretch of beach, where launch pads were used for Space Shuttle and Apollo missions.

Reuters/Scott Audette

Assistant Professor of Geology John Jaeger said his team was studying why a gap had appeared in a near-shore sandbar allowing more water in towards that section of the beach, and that’s when they realized it was sea-level rise and wave climate change that was the issue.

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NASA has built a new dune to replace the one that disappeared in tropical storms and hurricanes, but concern is mounting for a two-lane road that runs parallel to the railroad track, since buried underneath are electrical power lines and pipelines that transport liquefied gasses.

The agency is taking an approach it calls "managed retreat,” meaning it will eventually move roads, utilities and perhaps even launch pads – a complex and costly possibility.

"When you put immovable infrastructure right next to a dynamic environment," Jaeger said in a released statement, "something has to give."