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Geohazards Map of Galveston Island High Geohazard Potential Future Critical Environments: Areas ex pected to become critical environments rates of relative sea-level rise and shore line change continue and if development or restoration projects do not affect natural processes. Moderate Geohazard Potential Upland: Upland areas generally less than 5 feet above sea level that are not expected to become critical environments during fected by storm surge caused by tropical storms or category-one hurricanes. Imminent Geohazard Potential Present Critical Environments: Salt and freshwater wetlands, including beaches, tidal flats, and marshes. Along Gulf of Mexico shoreline, including beaches and foredunes. has some of the worst in the stateup to 10 feet a year on some beaches and as high as 15 feet a year along stretches of the bay. In coming decades, scientists predict that Galveston will become significantly skinnier and lower, more vulnerable to tropical storms and increasingly fragile environmentally. Two powerful forcesrising seas and sinking land, drive the phenomenon. Seas have been rising globally for about 18,000 of oil, gas, and groundwater has caused the island to subside. Scientists refer to the combination of the two as “relative sea level rise:’ Hundreds of homes, not to mention sewage and water systems, roads and natural habitat, are in jeopardy. Despite increasingly stern warnings from scientists and the protestations of environmentalists, Galveston’s unprotected West End is exploding with development. Developers are building homes and hotels on beaches expected to erode within decades. In some cases, geologists say, the builders are disrupting the very integrity of the island, carving away the land for canals, marinas, and ponds. Such excavation could enhance the potential for breaches of the island during storms by creating pathways for water. In an extreme case, Galveston could even be split into multiple pieces, the geologists warn. This scenario does not faze many islanders. An abiding faith in the power of engineering and technology has reassured them that the forces of nature can be resisted. So they build in the face of a looming disaster. Thousands of new units are planned. Golf courses, marinas, beach houses, and hotels are all slated for the West End. The future that likely awaits all this development is laid out in a color-coded map of geological hazards authored by three Texas coastal geologists for the city of Galveston. Red for imminent hazards, yellow for high hazards, the map projects what Galveston could look like in 2062. “I think a lot of people were really unhappy to see that geohazards map?’ says John 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 2, 2007 Anderson, a professor of oceanography at Rice University and one of the map’s authors. “It was a hot potato; actually, it was a live grenade.” Since its release last March, the geohazards map has rattled Galveston. Ironically, it offers a best-case scenario, say the mapmakers. It ignores the effect storms can have, moving shorelines 50 feet overnight. The map also leaves out the matter of climate change, which is expected to lead to higher sea levels globally, perhaps dramatically so. Starting at around 3 feet of total rise, a level some climate experts consider inevitable, and possible within this century, significant portions of the island could slip under water. Galveston and other low-lying parts of the upper Texas coast will probably bear the brunt of climate change. The magnitude of this slow-motion collision between man and nature is hard to grasp, and even harder for some to accept. “It’s sort of inconvenient;’ says Jackie Cole, a former city councilmember who was instrumental in commissioning the geohazards map. “It’s a difficult thing to face. It’s like sitting down in a doctor’s office and finding out you have a terminal illness?’ Cole stresses that she doesn’t believe the island is actually dying. People are resourceful and resilient. Galvestonians, especially, have learned to cope with disasters. But, she says, learning to live and deal with reality requires facing it first. “In all the stages of grief, the first stage is denial?’ Galveston breaks roughly into two campsthose who would fight Mother Nature and those who would bend to her will. Jerry Mohn, the owner of a chemical distribution company in Houston, belongs decisively to the former group, the “defenders.” And he has a name for the other side: “retreatists.” “Goodbye island,” he says, summing up the geohazards map with mock irony. Then he gets serious. “But this is what happens if we don’t do