NASA’s $32 Billion Facilities and the Fight Against Rising Sea Levels

A new study has revealed that sea level rises over the next 30 years will threaten NASA’s coastal facilities. NASA has approximately $32 billion in constructed assets, many of which are located along coastlines.

The study, which is published in the latest issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, provides an in-depth look at how NASA is preparing for a changing climate and increasing vulnerabilities.

Using a blend of weather data, global and regional climate model outputs, and advances in the understanding of the climate system, the study finds that many types of extreme events are expected to increase in frequency and magnitude in the future and pose hazards to NASA’s mission, infrastructure and workforce.

Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Sea Level Rises

The study found that by the 2050s, sea level rise alone could lead to an increase of 50 percent or more in coastal flooding frequency with varying impacts to NASA facilities, a high percentage of which are located near coastlines. In total, the agency has approximately $32 billion in constructed assets and about 64,000 employees, contractors and partners.

“Risk management is central to continuity of NASA operations, and the agency is including potential climate extremes in its risk management framework,” said Calvin Williams, assistant administrator for NASA’s Office of Strategic Infrastructure at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington.

Climate Adaptation Science Investigator (CASI)

In order to prepare for a changing climate and increasing vulnerabilities to such change, NASA has established a partnership between Earth scientists and institutional stewards. This includes the Climate Adaptation Science Investigator (CASI) working group initiative, bringing together Earth scientists, facility managers, emergency management staff, natural resource managers and human capital specialists at each NASA center to discuss management of climate risks and resilience.

“NASA has cutting-edge climate science and world-class stewardship at its facilities,” said Cynthia Rosenzweig, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, who led the study and the ongoing CASI initiative. “Now climate scientists and institutional stewards are working together to enhance resilience to climate extremes and change.”

The initiative strengthens the science community’s commitment to understanding climate impacts, targets research to the needs of the agency’s institutional stewards, and equips those stewards through workshops and ongoing knowledge sharing as a basis for proactive risk management.

Adaptation strategies underway and under consideration include: beach re-nourishment to minimize sea level rise and storm surge impacts; building designs that reduce reliance on the remote power sources that may become less reliable during extreme events; and, landscaping changes that reduce water use in dry regions and capture rain water to reduce flooding in wet regions.

A launch countdown sign along the road at the Kennedy Space Center, Saturday, May 9, 2009. Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
A launch countdown sign along the road at the Kennedy Space Center, Saturday, May 9, 2009. Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

See CASI for details on specific impacts at many NASA facilities.