By Kristen Maloney
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The Fort McHenry National Monument may have survived heavy British bombardment in September 1814, but it may be no match for Mother Nature.
The star-shaped fort in Baltimore is being threatened by rising sea levels as a result of global warming, according to a report recently published by the Department of Interior.
“Although we are not certain that the rising sea levels will directly impact the assets at Fort McHenry, it certainly has the potential to,” said Marjorie Weisskohl, a public affairs official for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. “Rising sea levels could effect coastal erosion, loss of plant, fish and wildlife habitat and flooding.”
“Fort McHenry is surrounded by the bay on three sides,” said Vincent Vaise, chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry. “If the sea wall that separates the sea from the land is under stress and it falls, erosion could be one of the results.”
While this recent environmental development may be shocking to some, it is no surprise to Rebecca Beavers, a coordinator of coastal geology and adaptation to climate change in the geologic resources division for the National Park Service.
“Fort McHenry is within a group of over 100 national parks that we are continuing to study,” Beaver said. “We have been researching this and other environmental threats for years.”
Fort McHenry is significant to the nation’s history and make-up. The rising sea levels have the potential to eliminate one of the great historic landmarks of the U.S., officials say.
“Fort McHenry holds so many aspects and assets that have made this country what it is today,” Vaise said. “The War of 1812 against the British and the creation of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ are just a few key examples.”
For some citizens of Baltimore like Janis Cashmark, owner of Our House, a restaurant located near Fort McHenry, this environmental issue hits home.
“If the sea levels do rise, we would definitely be effected since we are so close to the water,” Cashmark said. “I don’t know what nature is going to do, but I hope our business is spared.”
Rising tides, caused by a combination of climate change and environmental issues including hotspots and pollution, are definitely occurring, Beaver said. To aid her research, Beaver is teaming up with Dr. Maria Caffrey at the University of Colorado to further evaluate when impacts of the rising sea levels are going to appear and define exactly what those impacts will be.
“Fort McHenry’s assets will be impacted by rising sea levels,” Beaver said. “Our project with Dr. Caffrey will evaluate sea level and storm surge impacts on coastal parks and help the National Park Service define the timeline for when the impacts may be anticipated.”
The threat of rising sea levels in Fort McHenry and other locations along the Northeast coastline is all but certain. The effects may not be immediately extreme or apparent, but there will be drastic changes over about a century, officials said.
“The sea levels will be rising by about 1 meter in the next 150 years,” Weisskohl said, referencing the report. “There will be severe changes over time.”