NASA's satellites and scientists have been a big source of information about the dangers we face from climate change. But as it turns out, NASA facilities face a serious risk from an increase in sea levels.
According to a recent article published by the space agency, rising ocean waters threaten much the the U.S. space program's infrastructure on this planet.
"The nation's problem is also NASA's problem, and not just because several satellites and hundreds of Earth scientists are monitoring the rising seas," Michael J. Carlowicz, the chief technical writer of the agency's Sciences and Exploration Directorate, explains in the article. "Sea level rise hits especially close to home because half to two-thirds of NASA's infrastructure and assets stand within 16 feet of sea level."
Here Are 10 Striking Images of Future Sea Levels
"With at least $32 billion in laboratories, launch pads, airfields, testing facilities, data centers, and other infrastructure spread out across 330 square miles - plus 60,000 employees - NASA has an awful lot of people and property in harm's way," he adds.
The shrinking dunes and damaged shoreline near Kennedy Space Center, which are visible from the launch pads used by the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions, are prime evidence.
NASA made the decision to launch most of its experimental rockets and aircraft from coastal areas to provide flight paths over water, so that in the event of falling launch debris or crashes, the public wouldn't be endangered. That's a contrast to China, where part of a discarded rocket engine from a recent satellite launch crashed through a man's roof. The downside of that safety strategy, though, is that those coastal areas are now endangered by climate change.
NEWS: Melting Glaciers Cause One-Third of Sea Level Rise
In addition to Kennedy, other major NASA facilities are perilously close to rising waters Wallops Flight Facility and the Langley Research Center in Virginia, the Johnson Space Center in Texas and Ames Research Center in northern California. The Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, which sits behind levees, actually is below the water level of Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River.
NASA researchers have projected that by the 2050s, rising sea levels will increase the risk two to three of a storm causing major flooding at Kennedy Space Center. This risk of flooding is increased by 50 percent at Johnson Space Center, and at Ames, the risk will increase by a factor of 10.
"NASA coaster centers that are already at risk of flooding are virtually certain to become more vulnerable in the future," the researchers conclude.
Given this realization, NASA officials may have to seriously consider a move inland, Carlowicz writes.