Climate change is perhaps one of the most dangerous threats to the future of American space flight, as it turns out. Alongside some of the more banal concerns that face NASA on a regular basis (like budgetary allowances) and those events that are a bit less common (rockets blowing up, for instance) is the steadily rising nearby sea and the increased likelihood of intense storms brought on by global warming.
Figuring out how to deal with rising sea level and future severe storms is a real problem for NASA. Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida, is worth around $10.9 billion and is the only place on U.S. soil where humans have lifted off for space.
The threat, reported by Gizmodo Tuesday, became clear to the space agency just four years ago when Hurricane Sandy blew past the shore there, about 230 miles offshore. The winds and waves slammed the narrow strip of beach that separates NASA launch pads from the Atlantic. Sandy flattened dunes and blew sands all the way over to where ships blast off.
“I think the telling story is that the storm was almost 230 miles offshore, and it still had an impact,” Don Dankert, an environmental scientist at NASA, told Gizmodo. “It makes you wonder what would happen if a storm like that came in much closer, or collided with the coast.”
To counter the effects of climate change, the agency has built dunes that are intended to keep the waves at bay while at the same timerespecting the Center’s distinction as a wildlife habitat. That dune cost $3 million and came from FEMA disaster relief funds following Sandy. It’s a lot cheaper than some of the other alternatives, like a giant seawall, which has been proposed for New York City.
Of course, NASA isn’t the only organization that is facing steep costs associated with climate change. If left unmitigated, for instance, researchers at the Brookings Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., estimate that the world could lose 20 percent of its global GDP by 2100 to climate change failures.
Unlike a certain Republican running for president, NASA is a firm believer in climate change. The space agency recently sent investigators to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to study climate change and to Greenland to study how summer temperature impacted the ice sheet.