Dan Rattiner's Stories

Dig We Must: If You Can’t Lower Sea Melt, Dig Down to Lower Sea Melt

“If you can’t raise the bridge, lower the water.”

I have no idea how to solve global warming. But I do think I have a solution for the rising seas and the floods they bring. It’s something nobody’s ever thought of before.

Globally, the seas have risen almost two inches. The cause, of course, is the melting of the glaciers at both the north and south poles. Already, here in America, the seas have caused problems in the coastal cities of New York, Miami, Charleston, New Orleans and Galveston.

Here on the East End, we’re raising the levels of the pavement on Dune Road and on Gerard Drive in Springs. We’re building higher ocean dunes in Sagaponack and Montauk with more to come. These are temporary solutions, to be sure. The higher the water gets, the more we are going to have to raise these roads and dunes. Eventually, it will all fail.

But there is another way to look at this. It comes from an old adage that says, “If you can’t raise the bridge, lower the water.” And the idea came to me while looking out from my living room deck to the increasingly high tides of Three Mile Harbor. First, with Sandy five years ago, then with our third nor’easter this winter, the harbor has overflowed its banks.

It has to get up five feet to do that. It’s done it, for short periods of time to be sure, but it’s happened. I’ve lived on this spot for 40 years now. In that time, it only did that once before, and that was back in the 1980s during a full moon and a high tide during an offshore storm.

Out in the harbor, almost directly across the street from my house, there were two floating steam shovels pulling up muck from the harbor bottom and shoving it along a shore by Gardiner’s Marina. The marina is building a new steel bulkhead to raise the level of its dock. And that’s when it occurred to me.

If that steam shovel and other equipment like it were to haul the muck up and then dig deeper down into the harbor bottom to create a great big hole, the harbor water would fill up that deep hole and, as a result, lower the level of the water in the rest of the harbor. It might result in more water pouring in from the bay to make up for it, but let’s think a little bigger here.

What if—and I don’t know if this would environmentally damage the sea bottom—we were to have all these steam shovels up and down the East Coast, and up and down the west coast and at every other coastline in the world dig down to deepen the sea bottom by the shore all at the same time, it would result in a lowering of the sea levels.

There’s only so much water in the seas. Yes, it is slowly increasing year after year as the glaciers melt at the polar ice caps, but eventually all the ice caps will melt. Scientists say that if we do nothing between now and then, the sea levels everywhere will be 50 feet higher than they are now and they won’t get any higher at all after that.

The thing is, though, that if we make digging trenches and holes near every shoreline as a worldwide project, we will make a deeper bowl for all this new water to fill before it needs to come up higher at sea level. We account for all the water. It just makes for a deeper sea.

Will this work? I think it would. Would this be an overwhelming project to undertake? I think so. But it would take less work than to do what we are doing now, which is retreating from the shoreline and hoping for the best, then go back to living without oil, coal or other post-industrial energy sources and going back to living as they did in the 18th century. And I don’t think there’s any consensus in the world to want to do that.

With my plan, you wouldn’t have to give up oil and coal. The muck and sea bottoms could be packed against the shorelines. Doing this would create jobs, jobs, jobs. And everybody will live happily ever after.

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