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Project September 21, 2021

Rising Waters: The Greenland Connection

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Few places are more vulnerable to rising seas than the aptly named Lowcountry of South Carolina. During the last century, sea levels in Charleston, the Lowcountry’s largest city, rose at a rate of an inch every decade. Now it’s an inch every two years. That may not seem like much, but the cumulative impact adds up.

City residents are raising homes in the historic district; the state Department of Motor Vehicles closed its downtown office because of regular tidal flooding; the city is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build seawalls and stormwater pumps. Last year, the city had 69 flood events, the year before — a record 89.

It’s a climate emergency, but its incremental nature dampens the impacts. That’s why The Post and Courier, the state’s largest paper, plans to continue its aggressive climate coverage and do so in novel ways.

Last year, we launched Rising Waters, a unique project that embedded deeply reported climate-related issues in breaking stories about the increasingly frequent torrential downpours and sunny-day floods. We’ll continue this approach in 2021. And we’ll continue to do ambitious explanatory pieces, including one that explores how polar ice melt has a direct effect on low-lying land thousands of miles away, including the South Carolina Lowcountry.

For this project, we’ll go to Greenland during the summer ice melt to document what’s happening there and connect it in a new way to our readers in South Carolina. We plan to do this by focusing on the gravitational impact of ice loss. We’ll explain how Greenland ice has its own gravitational pull. This gravitational pull effectively pulls the ocean toward it and lowers sea levels far away.

But once the ice melts, so does the gravitational pull as seas rise more than they would otherwise. In other words, what’s happening in Greenland actually has a potentially larger impact the farther you get away from it, including Charleston, 3,000 miles away. And especially in low-lying areas where every inch of sea rise makes a difference.

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