Sea Level Rise Initiative
As a 10-acre campus in the Puddle Dock neighborhood of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Strawbery Banke Museum has a mission of historic preservation which extends to houses, gardens and landscapes on its property. In recent years, the rise of sea levels as a result of climate change has begun to affect the groundwater in the land on its campus; this hyperlocal effect of a global environmental issue has led the museum to take action to protect its historic property and to share the stakes of climate change with the public in new ways.
The Climate Toolkit interviewed Rodney Rowland, director of facilities and environmental sustainability, to talk about Strawbery Banke’s work through its Sea Level Rise Initiative.
Can you tell us a bit of how Portsmouth and the museum are being affected by climate change?
Portsmouth and Strawbery Banke are located on the Piscataqua River, a salt water, tidal river that separates NH from Maine. Strawbery Banke is at the lowest point in the south end of Portsmouth with higher elevations extending above us to the north and south. As a result of this geographic location, 4 out of our 32 historic homes are already impacted by surface water flooding and ground water flooding (also known as ground water intrusion).
Surface water is flooding locations due to higher tide levels in the river which go over the typical river edges and from low lying areas holding storm rain since it has no outlet. Groundwater flooding is occurring as the river storm surge presses upward on the ground water, raising the level and causing it to enter the basement level of homes and museum structures.
Can you talk about your research with the Sea Level Rise initiative?
The Sea Level Rise Initiative (SLRI) is the museum’s project to study and adapt or mitigate the impacts caused by both types of flooding. The research includes a SLR master planning study to look at surface water movements, impacts and a groundwater study to study the same. As we determine causes, we can then respond with adaptations to our site/buildings that will protect them from water. The museum has two studies going. One is our three-phase stormwater master plan that looks at every surface water flood area on our 9-acre site. The study, now in phase 2, will closely examine the causes and impacts of each flood area and identify solutions for those causes. Three outside consultants (engineer, architect, and landscape architect) are working together to create solutions along with a focus group of museum staff, City of Portsmouth staff and local residents.
The second study is a groundwater study, being done in partnership with the City of Portsmouth and the University of New Hampshire Geospatial Lab, will install water depth and salinity meters around the museum and the city to monitor how groundwater is moving. That data will be translated by UNH and available to museum visitors through a kiosk in our exhibit gallery.
Can you talk a bit about the community involvement with the current rising sea level projects?
Community involvement is so critical to dealing with this issue successfully. We have so many community “friends” who know so much more about this issue and are willing to help. Some of our partners include:
- The City of Portsmouth (Planning Dept and DPW)
- The State of NH Department of Environmental Services
- University of New Hampshire (Geospatial Lab and others)
- NH Coastal Adaptation Workgroup
- Keeping History Above Water conference
- Numerous granting agencies and private funders
- Other regional museums
As one may note, all our efforts in our SLRI are partnerships. Strawbery Banke Museum is ill- equipped to take on the challenges of sea level rise impacts by ourselves, nor should we. By seeking community help from the City of Portsmouth, UNH, Various State agencies, NH Coastal Adaptation Workgroup, private contractors and granting agencies (to name a few) we will find greater success and better solutions.
Can you tell us a bit about the “Water has a Memory Exhibit” and meaning behind the name? How does the idea of “think blue” arise when people are learning about the rising sea level?
The third part of our SLRI, with study and adaptation, is outreach. As we learn and adapt to the rising sea level, we want to teach all of this to the public. We have over 110,000 people visiting our site each year and we want to engage them on this topic and the work we are doing. We hope we can help them deal with these issues and change their lifestyle to help and not hurt the issue of SLR.
The gallery exhibit, Water has a Memory, is one way we do this outreach. We also have exterior signage around the site to bring attention to this important issue when the gallery might be closed, like now, for example.
The gallery exhibit will be up for 2 to 3 years and will change as we discuss and implement new things related to the SLRI. The exhibit is also an important partnership with the City of Portsmouth as they have their own initiatives that need a voice and audience. We offer both. One current City initiative is “Think Blue, What Can you Do,” which teaches about storm water impacts and how humankind can mitigate (lessen) storm water and protect it from containing contaminates. This important partnership will continue as we move forward, together, teaching the public on these important topics.