Many of NASA’s historic launch pads, airfields, and research and testing sites can be found close to coastlines across the nation. And the threat to them is increasing. Rising sea levels are expected to make coastal flooding due to both storms and periodic flooding worse and more frequent, in the decades ahead. Storms also could become stronger. Recent studies have shown that the land around five NASA centers – Ames Research Center in the San Francisco Bay area, Johnson Space Center near Houston’s coast, Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s east coast, Langley Research Center near Norfolk, Va., and Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore – could be subject to exacerbated inundation by 2050 due to varying degrees of sea level rise from 12 to 18 inches (30-46 centimeters) reflecting a "High" scenario.
NASA is taking a multi-pronged approach to protecting these facilities: adapting to rising waters by hardening existing buildings and other structures against flooding, or in some cases relocating structures to safer sites at higher elevations. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Wallops Flight Facility are adding monumental amounts of sand to their shorelines, although these are not considered permanent solutions. Johnson Space Center is installing flood-resistant doors, raising guard shacks, and improving water intake systems. And Ames Research Center and Langley Research Center are shifting much of their operations to higher ground as part of their long-term planning. Langley has demolished some facilities in vulnerable areas and built new facilities at higher elevations.
The potential effects of sea-level rise on NASA centers have been closely studied by the agency’s Climate Adaptation Science Investigators (CASI) Working Group.