Washington Is Finally Getting What It Deserves As It Sinks Into The Sea

Mother Nature has a great sense of humor.

New research indicates that Washington, D.C., is rapidly sinking into the ocean, news that might not make the rest of the country all that sad.

The research, from the University of Vermont, the U.S. Geological Survey and several other institutions, projects the land beneath the Washington area will drop 6 or more inches in the next 100 years. That's in addition to rising sea levels due to climate change, which is melting ice sheets and causing thermal expansion of the oceans. Climate change has already caused 8 inches of sea level rise since 1880, and is expected to raise average global sea levels another 1 to 4 feet by the end of this century.

Relative sea level rise in the Chesapeake Bay region is happening faster than any other part of the Atlantic coast, according to tidal records, and twice as fast as global averages.

Credit: GSA Today/DeJong et al

This is because the land there has been settling since the glaciers retreated 20,000 years ago, creating what the authors describe as a "forebulge collapse." Lead author Ben DeJong, who conducted the research as a doctoral student in Vermont's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, explains: "It’s a bit like sitting on one side of a water bed filled with very thick honey … the other side goes up. But when you stand, the bulge comes down again."

While geologists have discussed this phenomenon for some time, the latest research analyzes sediment records in the area of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which is in Maryland's Eastern Shore about 100 miles from Washington, and determines the age of each layer. The study links that geological history to three-dimensional mapping data for the region.

Meanwhile, Congress has thus far failed to do anything to address climate change, instead spending its time trying to undo the actions the Obama administration's Environmental Protection Agency has taken to address planet-warming emissions. And the majority of candidates for the 2016 Republican nomination maintain that human activity isn't causing climate change and that people who say it is are "alarmists."

"It's ironic that the nation's capital -- the place least responsive to the dangers of climate change -- is sitting in one of the worst spots it could be in terms of this land subsidence," University of Vermont geologist Paul Bierman said in a statement accompanying the research. "Will the Congress just sit there with their feet getting ever wetter? What’s next, forebulge denial?"

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