Climate change threatens iconic US destinations

Climate change threatens iconic US destinations

Climate Destinations

Climate change is gradually reshaping some of America’s most famous destinations as millions of Americans flock to the nation’s coasts, islands, and national monuments this summer. Experts have a sobering message: Climate change is rapidly transforming these cherished locales. From tropical islands to coastal homes and even the nation’s capital, the changes are unfolding in plain sight and at a rapid pace with no sign of stopping.

One of California’s most scenic and best-known attractions, the Big Sur Coast Highway, is becoming increasingly inaccessible due to climate change-induced landslides, cliff collapses, and rockfalls. “We have much more intense, prolonged winter storms that bring heavy rain and wind. As a consequence, the rate of failure due to landslides has increased significantly,” said Peter Swarzenski of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center.

The road, constructed in the 1930s, faces new levels of damage from these storms and wildfires that lead to soil erosion, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Significant closures and repairs have become almost an annual occurrence. More than 5 million visitors annually flock to the sandy beaches of the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

However, the impacts of climate change, including higher sea levels and increased high tide flooding, are clearly evident. The barrier islands are seeing more frequent flooding of the oceanfront highway and salt marshes overtaking freshwater bogs. Ghost forests, evidence of saltwater intrusion, scatter the landscape.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts high tide flooding will only increase, potentially tripling by 2030 and becoming ten times more frequent by 2050. The local community is grappling with challenges including dune restoration and potential development retreats. In Washington, D.C., famous landmarks such as the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr.

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Iconic destinations face climate challenges

Memorial are at risk. The man-made Tidal Basin is experiencing rising water levels, urbanization, and land subsidence.

Senior Director of Preservation Programs at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Seri Worden, notes that walkways flood regularly now, a stark change from 15 or 20 years ago. Rising water levels are also damaging nearby cherry trees. The National Park Service has begun construction on a $113 million project to restore the seawall and walkways to address flooding and preserve these national monuments for the future.

Key West, Florida, is one of the most vulnerable places in the nation to rising sea levels. The downtown tourist hub is mere feet above sea level, and projections show a possible 7 feet rise by 2100, which could submerge much of the Keys. Climate change is also intensifying the heat and hurricane threats.

The city is developing plans to enhance its resilience and advises visitors to plan for the unexpected, including packing travel insurance during hurricane season. Hawaii is renowned for its idyllic landscapes, but climate change is posing severe challenges. Last year, Fodor’s Travel listed it as a destination meriting reconsideration due to threats from overtourism and climate change.

The devastating wildfires on Maui have displaced many residents and influenced housing concerns. Over 100 people died in these fires, which also ravaged widespread areas. Experts warn of increased wildfires, hotter temperatures, coastal erosion, and more extreme rainfall due to climate change.

Hawaii will continue to face these and other climate threats, including sea level rise and increased drought. As climate change continues to reshape iconic US destinations, visitors and locals alike must adapt to the new realities these cherished places face.

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