December 5, 2014 / 8:57 PM / 6 years ago

Sea level rise threatening Kennedy Space Center in Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - Rising seas and pounding waves driven by climate change are chipping away at the coast near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, threatening launch pads and future operations, scientists said on Friday.

The Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Orion spacecraft lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 5, 2014. REUTERS/Scott Audette

“There’s reason to be nervous now because the problem is so obvious,” Peter Adams, a geology professor at the University of Florida, told Reuters.

Adams and fellow University of Florida geologist John Jaeger released their findings on a day when the space center on Florida’s east coast was celebrating a successful first test launch of the Orion capsule designed to one day fly astronauts to Mars.

Nancy Bray, director of Kennedy Space Center operations, said in a University of Florida news release, “We do consider sea level rise and climate change to be urgent.”

Bray added that NASA’s plans for dealing with climate change included a “managed retreat” in which it will move infrastructure, potentially including launch pads, as needed.

Florida coastal communities could experience about a 2-foot (60-cm) rise in sea level by 2060, the U.S. Geological Survey has previously said. The two main causes are the volume of water added to oceans from glacial melt and the expansion of that water from rising sea temperatures.

The U.S. space agency already has erected a line of manmade dunes to replace eroded natural ones that historically protected the shoreline between launch pads 39A and 39B used by the space shuttle and Apollo missions.

“Without that secondary dune line, we could have saltwater intrusion at the launch pad,” Bray said.

A series of storms including Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 washed away the protective dunes, Adams said, allowing waves to crest over an old and little-used space center train track.

A parallel road built over electrical power lines and liquid gas fuel lines could be next, Adams said.

Bray said NASA also has developed a plan for dealing with potential effects of climate change at the Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.

Editing by David Adams and Will Dunham

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