The new viewer shows that in Stratford in 2055 salt marshes (yellow) and the most frequent road flooding - every 30 days - (red) will encroach on shoreline areas including Sikorsky Memorial Airport.
The new viewer shows that in Stratford in 2055 salt marshes (yellow) and the most frequent road flooding (red) – every 30 days – will encroach on shoreline areas including Sikorsky Memorial Airport.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of six stories exploring how Connecticut is grappling with the effects of climate change, one small solution at a time.

SLAMM is one of those wonky acronyms that science types looking at the impacts of sea level rise from climate change like to use. It stands for Sea Level Affecting Marsh Migration.

If you live/work/otherwise spend time on the Connecticut shoreline, you’d be advised to shake off that glazed expression and have a look at a new interactive SLAMM viewer produced by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research. In addition to showing what will happen to the 21 largest tidal marshes in the state as the result of sea level rise, it also shows what that sea level rise will do to shoreline roads.

Spoiler alert – they’re going to have more water on them.

And that’s just tidal flooding. Throw in flooding from storms and you’re talking a lot of wet.

Beyond the ominous red lines on roadways that increase over time on the interactive viewer, DEEP’s number crunching shows non-storm flooding on coastal roads occurred at least every 90 days on a total of 5.75 miles of road in 2010. In 2055, that total is likely to be up to 79.31 miles. More than two-thirds of that flooding would occur at least once every 30 days.

It gets worse, reaching 271.58 miles by the end of the century. See that data and more here.

And while most folks are going to be a lot more worried about whether the roads they use are under water, don’t ignore those marshes. They have a lot to do with whether roads flood.

Salt marshes act like sponges, naturally soaking up water from whatever the source – storms, tides, or sea level rise. They deal with sea level rise in particular by using sediment to build themselves higher or by moving landward.

“It’s a horse race between the Sound and the marsh level and the marsh being able to deal with sea level rise,” said David Kozak, senior coastal planner at DEEP and one of the key players in developing the SLAMM viewer and the research behind it.

Fairfield Flooding projections in 2085, seen in red, indicate flooding will occur every 30 days. Many homes in this area were elevated after flooding during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, but road flooding could make them inaccessible.

That research shows that sea level rise will convert considerable portions of the marshes from what’s known as high marsh to low marsh. Low marsh is what results when saltwater incursion frequency increases, supports far fewer plant types and loses its ability to soak up as much water.

“There are significant implications to the health of the Sound and significant ecosystem implications,” Kozak said. “The type of marsh is going change to eventually no marsh, to tidal mud flats, to open water.”

See the projections for yourself – which Kozak said use somewhat conservative sea level rise estimates.

The state Department of Transportation, which has the potential to use the viewer as a tool to help assess future road work, calls it a “good start.”

Robert Bell, a director in DOT’s Bureau of Policy and Planning, said the tool still needs some additional information – especially the prediction that jumps from 90-day to 10-year flooding with no intermediate levels. He also said it needs a better definition of what constitutes “flooding.”

“At the moment, it’s not as useful,” he said. “But it does allow us to consider some things.”

Kozak said the viewer will provide an opportunity to think about how to manage the water moving in and out of marshes as DOT and municipalities find they need to rebuild infrastructure around them, including whether to elevate the marshes. It will also help municipalities and DOT make capital decisions.

He also expects pushback from the real estate industry, which worries that predictions of flooding will harm home sales.

“Why not give people complete information so they can make decisions,” Kozak asked rhetorically. “Right down to individual landowners making a decision whether to stay or buy into a road that floods frequently?”

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

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Jan Ellen SpiegelEnergy & Environment Reporter

Jan Ellen is CT Mirror's regular freelance Environment and Energy Reporter. As a freelance reporter, her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yale Climate Connections, and elsewhere. She is a former editor at The Hartford Courant, where she handled national politics including coverage of the controversial 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. She was an editor at the Gazette in Colorado Springs and spent more than 20 years as a TV and radio producer at CBS News and CNN in New York and in the Boston broadcast market. In 2013 she was the recipient of a Knight Journalism Fellowship at MIT on energy and climate. She graduated from the University of Michigan and attended Boston University’s graduate film program.

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5 Comments

  1. Do those who live in lavish, expensive shoreline communities in the State of Connecticut, and other states. Truly care about the climate and rising oceans, or is preservation of their assets and wealth, what really drives their agenda? Observe how they live, spend their wealth and what true sacrifices they acutally make and the answer becomes obvious. The hypocrisy is glaring!

  2. And yet the conversation continues about which airport to upgrade – Sikorsky Memorial or Tweed-New Haven. Sure, let’s invest $M in either only to have to eventually flood-proof to “protect our investment”.

    While I do not question the concept of climate change, I do question our analysis of the the driving forces behind it.

    Changes in global climate are inevitable and we would be wise to attempt to anticipate and plan for the resulting impacts.

  3. Geology 101-you always lose the beach. That’s why home insurance is high on the shore. Beaches change over time. We are in an interglacial. Salt marshes are nature’s best cesspools, absorbing chemical junk from floodwaters. Erosion-a completely natural process.

  4. Another great article by Jan Ellen Spiegel and for those who doubt the seriousness of it or the reasons for the sea level rise I advise they look into the many steps the military leaders are taking to ensure those assets can continue their mission in a meaningful way. I would also add the time for climate change mitigation is not exactly over but we must begin to place climate change adapatation on at least an equal if not more important position. Some of Governor Lamont’s press releases from last week may have reflected this but many DEEP policies, at least up to now, have not been encouraging in this respect as they have always gone for the “cheapest” (horrible word) way to do things.

    Best,
    Joel N. Gordes

  5. There is a false sense of security that we have until 2055 for this 30 day flooding cycle. It’s based on carbon emissions projections. Expansion of fracked gas is leaking far too much raw methane, which is bringing faster melting of glaciers and ice sheets now. What happened in Greenland this summer wasn’t expected for another 30 years. Plus increased flooding and storm surge from hurricanes in coming years may mean these land masses and marshes will have already been destroyed. We need a rapid drawdown of fossil fuels now, and the only way we can slow climate change impacts is to give up on gas. DEEP needs to stop permitting gas infrastructure, gas power plants and pipelines. Energize CT needs to stop funding gas conversions. Legislators need to fund energy efficiency and require leaks in existing pipelines be fixed. Shared solar needs expanding. But campaign financing and that revolving door between leadership and industry stands in the way.

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