On the Front Lines of Rising Seas: Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia
Seas are expected to rise between 4.5 and 6.9 feet by the end of this century in the area around Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
During the second half of the century, in the absence of preventive measures, Langley-Eustis can expect more frequent and extensive tidal flooding, loss of currently utilized land, and substantial increases in the extent and severity of storm-driven flooding.
JB Langley-Eustis is located near the city of Newport News, Virginia, and is within the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, one of the East Coast regions most vulnerable to sea level rise because of its low-lying topography and natural subsidence. Much of the region, including JB Langley-Eustis, lies below 10 feet in elevation
JB Langley-Eustis is made up of Langley AFB and Fort Eustis. The two installations, which were joined in 2010, are separated by nearly 20 miles. Langley AFB provides combat airpower to the nation and borders Langley Research Center, a historically pivotal aviation facility. Fort Eustis has, since World War II, provided Army transportation training and logistics. It is also the headquarters for the US Army Training and Doctrine Command, which oversees the training and leadership development of Army forces.
With a population including active duty military, contractors, civilians, and their families, JB Langley-Eustis is an integral part of the local community. The installation is a critical component of the local economy as well, contributing an estimated $2.4 billion annually.
Projected exposure to coastal flooding
The base's exposure to coastal flooding is projected for the years 2050, 2070, and 2100 based on the National Climate Assessment’s midrange or “intermediate-high” sea level rise scenario (referred to here as “intermediate”) and a “highest” scenario based on a more rapid rate of increase.
Tidal flooding, land loss, and storm surge from hurricanes were all modeled. In this analysis, land inundated by at least one high tide each day is considered a loss. This is a conservative metric: in reality, far less frequent flooding would likely lead to land being considered unusable.
The results below outline potential future flooding scenarios for JB Langley-Eustis, assuming no new measures are taken to prevent or reduce flooding.
- Flooding during extreme high tides will become more extensive, affecting new areas. Today, routine tidal flooding affects mainly wetland portions of JB Langley-Eustis, roughly nine times per year. But in the intermediate scenario, such flooding could expand to affect roadways and other areas within the installation by 2050.
- Flood-prone locations could flood with each high tide. By 2050 in the highest scenario, tidal flooding occurs roughly 540 times per year—on average, more than once per day—in currently flood-prone places. Barring any natural adaptation of the wetlands, these areas could be inundated for more than 75 percent of the year by 2070.
- Extensive land loss at JB Langley-Eustis is possible. As the lowest-lying areas come to be underwater most of the time, the daily reach of high tide will inundate more elevated areas. In the highest scenario, roughly 60 percent of Fort Eustis and 85 percent of Langley Air Force Base (AFB) would become part of the tidal zone, flooding daily, by the end of the century.
- Sea level rise exposes additional, previously unaffected areas of JB Langley-Eustis to storm surge flooding. By 2050 in the intermediate scenario, the area at Langley AFB exposed to flooding from a Category 1 storm increases by more than 30 percent to about 85 percent; it increases to about 65 percent at Fort Eustis.
- Sea level rise means that later this century, storms in a lower category can produce surge associated today with a higher category. By 2100 in the intermediate scenario, the area of JB Langley-Eustis exposed to storm surge flooding from a Category 1 storm is greater than that exposed by today’s Category 2 storms. Similarly, in terms of the area exposed to flooding, a Category 2 storm surge in 2100 is equivalent to surge from a Category 3 today.
- Sea level rise exposes JB Langley-Eustis to deeper, more severe flooding. Today, the majority of the flooding these bases experience during Category 1 storms is five feet deep or less. By 2100 in the intermediate scenario, such a storm will expose more than 30 percent of Langley AFB to flooding five to 10 feet deep. While only about 5 percent of Fort Eustis is exposed to flooding five to 10 feet deep today during a Category 1 storm, the proportion rises to 20 percent in 2050 and to more than 40 percent in 2100.
The gap between the military’s current preparedness for sea level rise and the threats outlined here is large and growing.
In order to plan effectively for the long term, military decision makers with authority over JB Langley-Eustis need to understand how sea level rise may permanently alter the landscape of this coastal installation and where the threat of storm surge may become intolerable.
To take action, however, individual installations like JB Langley-Eustis will need more detailed analysis and resources to implement solutions.
Congress and the Department of Defense should, for example, support the development and distribution of high-resolution hurricane and coastal flooding models; adequately fund data monitoring systems such as our nation’s tide gauge network; allocate human, financial, and data resources to detailed mapping and planning efforts at military installations; and, as adaptive measures are identified, allocate resources for these projects, many of which will stretch over decades.
Our defense leadership has a special responsibility to protect the sites that hundreds of thousands of Americans depend on for their livelihoods and millions depend on for national security.
Additional maps and resources
This analysis modeled exposure to coastal flooding for four different points in time (2012, 2050, 2070, and 2100) and two different sea level rise scenarios.
For each time horizon and scenario, we analyzed storm surge from Category 1 through 5 hurricanes, the extent and frequency of flooding from extra-high tides, and inundation from ordinary high tides.
Detailed maps for each scenario at JB Langley-Eustis are available via Dropbox.
For more, please see the methodology used for this analysis.