U.S. Congressional Research Service: Military Installations and Sea-Level Rise

By Marc Kodack

The U.S. Congressional Research Service recently released a two page In Focus report on sea level rise and military installations. The U.S. Department of Defense has over 1,700 installations that could be affected by sea level rise, with the potential to affect readiness and operations. The authors suggest that Congress might consider using their fiscal and national security authorities to determine how these installations are preparing to address sea level rise.

The report summarizes information from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Global Change Research Program on the effects that rising ocean water temperature and melting terrestrial ice have had on global mean sea level. For example, overall changes in mean sea level of 7-8 inches have occurred since 1900, with 3 inches of that rise occurring since 1993. These changes can affect installations and their surrounding communities differently. For example, clear weather flooding may occur during high tides. During severe storms and hurricanes, storm surges and high wind have damaged and destroyed infrastructure, both on and off an installation. These storms can significantly disrupt operations and the ability of an installation to function, e.g., Tyndall Air Force Base’s estimated $4.7 billion in damage from Hurricane Michael.

While the Department of Defense (DoD) has previously identified climate change and sea level rise as risks to operations through guidance and research, Congress required DoD to revise military construction policies and procedures so that they explicitly address sea level rise. The report ends with possible issues that Congress may want DoD to address including (1) creating a standard definition of extreme weather; (2) creating a process on how to incorporate climate change projections, not just sea level rise, into infrastructure planning; and (3) if all installations, not just larger installations, should address extreme weather, e.g., storm surge, into their master plans.

To learn more on this issue, also see the Center for Climate and Security’s Military Expert Panel Report: Sea Level Rise and the U.S. Military’s Mission, 2nd Edition.

Dr. Marc Kodak Dr. is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security. Before retiring from federal service in 2018 with over 31 years of experience, Marc served as the Water Program Manager in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment. 

Top 10 Most Climate-Vulnerable Military Bases According to U.S. Armed Forces

By John Conger

In 2017, the U.S. Congress directed the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a list of the installations in each military service that were most vulnerable to climate change.  They gave DoD a year to do this work, as it wasn’t simple.  The DoD would need to look across its enterprise, and determine how it would measure vulnerability and assess which risks were specifically from climate change.  At the Center for Climate and Security, we published a briefer on the factors they might consider.

In early 2019, the DoD report was submitted to Congress, but it omitted the requested prioritization and had other puzzling gaps as well.  It omitted the Marine Corps.  It left out all non-US bases.  It didn’t respond to Congressional questions about mitigation and cost.  Instead, it included a list of 79 bases that the Department determined were its most critical, and then did a rudimentary assessment of the threat from climate change without prioritization.  Congress then directed them to go back and redo the work.

In April, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) submitted an addendum that prioritized the 79 installations previously submitted by ascribing values to various climate impacts, but including no scale or measure within each.  In other words, you were either vulnerable to flooding or not. That was the extent of the analysis.  Nonetheless, the DoD developed three prioritized lists (again omitting the Marine Corps) based on that exercise.  Congress again expressed dissatisfaction with the approach and went straight to the individual Services, asking each of them for their own lists.

The Air Force list was revealed by the media earlier, and we did a side-by-side evaluation of the OSD list for the AF and their own list.

Now, each of the services has submitted a list to Congress, and we’ll do similar side-by-sides in the coming days.  Until then, here are the climate-vulnerable base lists from each of the services which were sent to Congress yesterday, and published for the first time on our site:

A few early observations:

The Marine Corps list is entirely new.  Previously, OSD didn’t submit a Marine Corps list, which was a major gap in the initial report.  Also of note, the Marine Corps list is the only one that didn’t confine itself to domestic bases.

The Army list is focused not on flooding and sea-level rise, but on desertification, drought and risk of wildfire.

The Navy list looks much the same as the OSD version, but it’s notable that the Navy submitted more than ten bases.  In general, it’s good to remember that each of these lists is intended to be the bases most at risk, but it doesn’t mean that other bases aren’t at risk as well.

More to come.