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December 17, 2017

Both TransAsia plane engines lost power before Taiwan crash

Search and rescue divers continue to search for missing persons at the site of a commercial plane crash in Taipei, Taiwan, Friday, Feb. 6, 2015. TransAsia Airways Flight 235 with 58 people aboard clipped a bridge shortly after takeoff and crashed into a river in the island’s capital of Taipei on Wednesday morning. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — One of the two engines on TransAsia Airways Flight 235 went idle 37 seconds after takeoff, and the pilots apparently shut off the other before making a futile attempt to restart it, Taiwan’s top aviation safety official said.

It was unclear why the second engine was shut down, since the plane was capable of flying with one engine. Taiwan’s official China News Agency said investigators were looking into the possibility of “professional error.”

Wednesday’s crash into a river in Taipei minutes after takeoff killed at least 36 people and left seven missing. Fifteen people were rescued with injuries after the accident, which was captured in a dramatic dashboard camera video that showed the ATR 72 propjet banking steeply and scraping a highway overpass before it hurtled into the Keelung River.

There would be no reason to have shut down the good engine, experts said.

“It’s a mistake,” said John M. Cox, a former US Airways pilot and now head of a safety-consulting company. “There are procedures that pilots go through — safeguards — when you’re going to shut down an engine, particularly close to the ground. Why that didn’t occur here, I don’t know.”

Multi-engine planes, whether jets or turboprops like the ATR, are designed to fly on one engine. When an engine quits, one technique that pilots often use, Cox said, is to identify and tell each other which engine is still running, then for one of them to place a hand behind the throttle controlling that good engine — guarding against an accidental shutdown.

Cox said it is too early to draw certain conclusions but it’s likely that the crew’s failure to control the plane and shutting down the operating engine “will be part of the causal factors to this accident.”

The details on the engines were presented at a news conference in Taipei by Aviation Safety Council Executive Director Thomas Wang as preliminary findings from the flight data recorder.

Wang said Friday the plane’s right engine triggered an alarm 37 seconds after takeoff. However, he said the data showed it had not shut down, or “flamed out” as the pilot told the control tower, but rather moved into idle mode, with no change in the oil pressure.

Then, 46 seconds later, the left engine was shut down, apparently by one of the pilots, so that neither engine was producing any power. A restart was attempted, but the plane crashed just 72 seconds later.

Several Internet aviation sites, including Flightradar24, questioned whether the pilots may have mistakenly turned off the wrong engine in an attempt to restart the idled one.

Anthony Brickhouse, a safety-science professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said investigators won’t really know what happened to the engines until they do a “tear-down” and actually examine them — not just rely entirely on information from the flight-data recorder — to determine whether one or both were still producing power.

TransAsia said in a statement that all 71 of its ATR pilots would retake proficiency examinations as requested by the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

The pilot had 4,900 hours of flying experience, said Lin Chih-ming of the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

Taiwanese Vice President Wu Den-yih, mindful of the island’s reputation as a tourist destination and its tense relations with China where most of the flight’s passengers were from, went to a Taipei funeral parlor for prayer sessions to pay respects.

At the parlor, where bodies are being stored, Wu expressed condolences and praised pilot Liao Chien-chung, who died in the crash. The pilots may have deliberately steered the plane away from buildings and into the river in the final moments.

“When it came to when it was clear his life would end, (the pilot) meticulously grasped the flight operating system and in the final moments he still wanted to control the plane to avoid harming residents in the housing communities,” Wu said.

“To the plane’s crew, the victims … I here express condolences.”

Divers with a local fire agency found one female and three male bodies Friday along the muddy Keelung River bottom about 50 meters (yards) from the crash site, a Taipei City Fire Department official surnamed Chen said.

The agency suspects the eight bodies that are still missing may be in equally murky areas and has sent 190 divers to look for them. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense dispatched three S-70C rescue helicopters to search along a river system that runs into the ocean off Taiwan’s northwest coast.

More than 30 relatives of victims cried wildly, prayed or were comforted by Buddhist volunteers at the riverside crash site as divers in black wetsuits brought back the four bodies. Some divers came ashore with their hands joined in prayer for the people they brought back.

The pilot’s and co-pilot’s bodies were found earlier with their hands still on the controls, Taiwan’s ETToday online news service said.

Wang said the engines had shown no problems before the flight and repeatedly stated that the plane would have been able to take off and fly even with only one engine working.

Evidence that the TransAsia pilots may have shut down the wrong engine drew comparisons with the 1989 crash of a British Midland Airways Boeing 737 jet shortly after takeoff from London’s Heathrow Airport.

In that accident, a fan blade failure in the left engine led to vibrations and smoke and fumes in the cockpit. The pilots believed that the right engine had failed and reduced power to it, which caused the vibrations to stop, convincing the crew that they had identified the troubled engine. As the pilots tried to make an emergency landing, the left engine quit, and attempts to restart the right engine failed. The plane crashed a half-mile short of the runway, killing 47 people; 79 survived.

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Both TransAsia plane engines lost power before Taiwan crash

Easter Island's Demise May Have Surprising New Explanation

The downfall of Easter Island may have had more to do with preexisting environmental conditions than degradation by humans, according to a new study of the remote speck of land made famous by its enormous stone-head statues.

Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, was first settled around A.D. 1200, and Europeans landed on its shores in 1722. The circumstances surrounding the collapse of the indigenous population of Rapa Nui are hotly debated both in academia and popular culture. Scientist and author Jared Diamond argued in his 2005 book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” (Viking Press) that prior to European contact, the indigenous people of the island degraded the environment to the extent that they could no longer thrive.

The new study suggests that Easter Island’s people were, indeed, suffering before Europeans came along. The story of their downfall, however, may be less about environmental degradation than the pre-existing environmental constraints of the 63-square-mile (163 square kilometers) isle. [Image Gallery: The Walking Statues of Easter Island]

“The results of our research were really quite surprising to me,” said study co-author Thegn Ladefoged, an anthropologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. “Indeed, in the past, we’ve published articles about how there was little evidence for pre-European-contact societal collapse.” 

Collapse of civilization?

The new study challenged Ladefoged and his colleagues’ view. Changes on Easter Island have been well documented, archaeologically. Over time, elite dwellings were destroyed, inland agricultural fields were abandoned, and people took refuge in caves and began manufacturing more and more spear points made out of volcanic glass called obsidian, perhaps suggesting a period of war and upheaval. 

The problem with pinning down the island’s history, according to the researchers, is that the dates of all these events and abandonments remain murky. Going into the study, the researchers expected to find that most of the disaster occurred after Europeans arrived, Ladefoged told Live Science.

To clarify the timeline, the researchers analyzed more than 400 obsidian tools and chipped-off obsidian flakes from six sites scattered around the island, focusing in particular on three with good information on climate and soil chemistry.

Obsidian absorbs water when exposed to air. By measuring the amount of water absorption in the surfaces of the obsidian tools and flakes, the research team was able to gauge how long those surfaces have been exposed, thus revealing when the tools were made. A greater number of tools from a certain time period indicates heavier human use of that area during that time. [History’s 10 Most Overlooked Mysteries]

Natural challenges

The obsidian dates varied widely across the sites. Site 1, on the northwestern coast of the island, saw a steady increase in use between about 1220 and 1650, with a fast decline starting after 1650 — long before Europeans arrived on the island.

Site 2, an interior mountainside site, saw a rapid increase in land use between about 1200 and 1300, a slower increase until about 1480, and then constant use until a decline that started between 1705 and 1710, also before European contact. By the time Europeans came along, coastal Site 1 was at about 54 percent of its peak land use, and mountainous Site 2 was at only about 60 percent.

Site 3 told a different story. This near-coastal area saw a slow increase in human activity between 1250 and 1500, and then a faster increase until about 1690, after which settlement remained fairly constant until after European contact. In fact, the decline in use of this site didn’t begin until 1850 or later, the researchers found.

The differing climates of the sites may explain the uneven decline, the researchers said. Site 1 is in the rain shadow of the volcano Ma’unga Terevaka, making it prone to droughts. Site 2 is wetter, but its soil fertility is low. Site 3, the longest-lasting spot, is both rainy and fertile.

What this means is that the people of Easter Island may have been struggling against natural environmental barriers to success, rather than degrading the environment themselves, the researchers reported Monday (Jan. 5) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It is clear that people were reacting to regional environmental variation on the island before they were devastated by the introduction of European diseases and other historic processes,” Ladefoged said. The next step, he said, would be to take a detailed look at the archaeological remnants of dwellings on the island over time to better understand how humans and the environment interacted.

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Easter Island's Demise May Have Surprising New Explanation

On the Dutch coast, an experiment in sand

By Alister Doyle

TER HEIJDE, Netherlands (Reuters) – A pile of sand about eight times the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza is shaping up as a cut-rate model for protecting coasts from rising seas.

The “Sand Engine” is 28 million cubic yards (21.5 million cubic meters) covering an area 1.2 miles (2 km) long and half a mile wide. Dumped along the shore here in 2011, the sand pile marks a shift from the Dutch tradition of armoring the coast with dikes and other hardware.

Instead, the hope is that as all that sand is slowly blown and washed along the coast, it will feed nearby beaches and dunes for 20 to 30 years, providing the low-lying coast with long-term protection from erosion. That would make unnecessary a ritual of dredging the shore and replenishing the beaches every few years.

The project isn’t without risks. A string of storms shifted more sand than expected, and if the sand travels too far, it could choke ports on the coast.

But so far, the 70 million euro ($95.48 million) Sand Engine “is doing more or less what was predicted, moving a bit faster than we thought,” Jasper Fiselier, an environmental planner at engineering consultants Royal HaskoningDHV, said during a recent inspection. His company was one of several involved in the project, funded by the Dutch water board, Rijkswaterstaat, and the provincial authority of South Holland.

One way in which the project saved money: a bulk discount. The sand cost 2.5 euros ($3.40) per cubic meter, far less than the usual three to six euros per cubic meter, Fiselier said. The sand was supplied from the seabed by Dutch dredging specialists experts Royal Boskalis Westminster and Van Oord.

The Sand Engine has also become a recreation spot. About 20 kite surfers were in a lagoon formed by the hook-shaped sandy peninsula one day last summer, many of them beginners flailing with yellow, green or red sails in a stiff breeze.

Elsewhere, a group of Dutch farmers is deliberately pouring saltwater onto crops. In plots on Texel Island, where brackish water is seeping under dikes and onto farmland, they hope to breed varieties of potatoes, carrots, grass or barley that can resist salt.

“For farmers, talking about salinity is about as popular as talking about an infectious disease in your family,” said Marc van Rijsselberghe, head of SaltFarmTexel, set up in 2006.

Twenty-six percent of the Netherlands lies below sea level, and seawater is seeping under dikes in many regions. “Sea level rise … adds pressure on the outside of the dikes,” said Arjen de Vos, a scientist at VU University Amsterdam, a sponsor of the experimental farm. “There are many places on Texel where the water in drainage canals is really salty – cows can no longer drink it,” he said.

The project could ultimately yield results that help farmers around the world who are dealing with salinity from rising sea levels, from Bangladesh to tiny Pacific islands, he said.

King Willem-Alexander visited the salt crop project in May, lending it implicit royal endorsement. “We’ve changed from being revolutionaries to being innovators,” de Vos said of the visit.

SaltFarmTexel includes rows of potatoes, barley, carrots, onions and cabbage irrigated with varying levels of saltwater. The project has a few clients, ranging from farmers to golf course owners who test grasses suited to salty soils. They typically pay 15,000 euros for a small plot experimenting with different crop varieties and salt concentrations.

(Edited by John Blanton)

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On the Dutch coast, an experiment in sand

European Probe Survived Comet Landing with Luck and Great Design

Europe’s Rosetta mission pulled off the first-ever soft landing on a comet Wednesday thanks to a lot of great engineering and hard work — along with a healthy dose of luck, mission scientists say.

Rosetta’s Philae lander successfully touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko early Wednesday morning (Nov. 12), more than 300 million miles (483 million kilometers) from Earth. But Philae’s anchoring harpoons didn’t fire as planned, and the 220-lb. (100 kilograms) probe bounced off the comet twice before settling onto its icy surface for good.

Philae survived the dramatic landing intact, however, and is already gathering a variety of data about the 2.5-mile-wide (4 km) Comet 67P. [Rosetta Comet Landing: Complete Coverage]

“We were very, very lucky yesterday — so much luck,” Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center, said during a news conference Thursday. 

Bouncing off a comet

Philae’s first bounce off 67P was a big one, sending the lander about 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) above the comet’s surface, Ulamec said. Philae eventually came down again 1 hour and 50 minutes later, likely about 0.6 miles away from the original landing site. (The team still isn’t sure exactly where the lander ended up.)

But the probe was nearly lost to space. It rebounded off 67P’s surface at 0.85 mph (1.37 km/h); with a bounce of about 1 mph (1 km/h), Philae would have escaped the comet’s minuscule gravity altogether, said Peter Schultz, a geoscientist at Brown University in Rhode Island. (Schultz has worked on three different NASA missions to comets and asteroids but is not part of the Rosetta team.)

To put those numbers in perspective: The escape velocity at Earth’s surface is about 25,000 mph (40,230 km/h).

The second bounce lasted just 7 minutes and featured a rebound speed of 0.067 mph (0.11 km/h), Ulamec said. When it was over, Philae was oriented nearly vertically on the comet’s surface, with one of its three landing legs apparently dangling into empty space. But the probe came through its ordeal in good shape and ready to collect data, which surprised Schultz. [Best Close Encounters of the Comet Kind]

“I’m actually flabbergasted,” he told Space.com. “Somehow, the German gods were looking [over the mission].”

Good engineering certainly helped as well. As Philae spiraled down toward the comet, it did have enough kinetic energy to escape back into space, said Mark Hofstadter, deputy principal investigator for MIRO (Microwave Instrument on the Rosetta Orbiter). However, shock absorbers in Philae’s legs absorbed and converted to heat much of that energy when the probe hit the surface the first time, he noted.

“Plus, a little energy was absorbed by the surface the lander hit (maybe crushing some rocks),” Hofstadter, who’s based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told Space.com via email. “So knowing that even a tiny amount of energy was dissipated means that the lander would not have enough energy to escape again.”

Indeed, the Philae team built some redundancy into the lander, allowing it to cope with a variety of different situations and parameters on Comet 67P, Ulamec said.

“The harpoons did not work, but the landing gear worked very nicely,” he said.

And Schultz was quick to praise the Rosetta team and its multiple accomplishments. (This past August, the Rosetta mothership caught 67P after a 10-year chase and became the first spacecraft ever to enter orbit around a comet.)

Schultz observed that the Rosetta mission was conceived and developed more than 20 years ago, when researchers knew far less about comets than they do today.

“It’s remarkable that this has worked so well,” he said. “And this is why it’s always worth it to dare, and to explore. That’s the big lesson for me.”

Lots of science to come

With the probe in its current precarious position, the mission team is hesistant to try firing the anchoring harpoons again or use Philae’s drilling instrument, which can collect samples from more than 8 inches (20 centimeters) beneath the comet’s surface, Ulamec said.

But Philae is already well into its “first science sequence” phase, or FSS, using its 10 different instruments to get a first taste of the comet. The FSS will last until Philae’s primary batteries run out — perhaps two to three days after touchdown, mission officials have said.

The plan also calls for Philae to keep studying Comet 67P over the long term, using batteries that will be recharged by solar cells aboard the lander. This second phase was envisioned to last a maximum of three months or so, but expectations may have to be recalibrated downward after the double-bounce landing; Philae is only getting about 1.5 hours of sunlight per day in its current location, while the intended landing site offered 6 to 7 hours per day, the lander’s handlers say.

Regardless, Philae should still manage to collect a great deal of interesting data, mission team members say. The lander’s scientific gear is designed to study the composition and structure of Comet 67P in great detail. For example, one instrument employs radio waves to probe the interior of the comet’s nucleus, while another identifies complex organic molecules on the surface.

“This is real comet geology now,” Schultz said. “I think it’s going to be a spectacular mission.”

Comets are icy remnants left over from the solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago, so observations made by Philae and the Rosetta mothership should shed light on the conditions prevalent when Earth and the other planets were taking shape, mission officials have said.

The Rosetta orbiter will continue studying Comet 67P through at least December 2015, observing how the comet changes as it gets closer and closer to the sun. (67P’s closest approach will come in August 2015, when it zooms within 1.25 Earth-sun distances of our star.)

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

Copyright 2014 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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500-Year-Old Traces of Monster Hawaii Tsunami Discovered

A powerful earthquake in Alaska sent towering waves up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall crashing down on Hawaii about 500 years ago, leaving behind fragments of coral, mollusk shells and coarse beach sand in a sinkhole located on the island of Kauai, new research finds.

The quake, likely a magnitude 9.0, sent the mighty waves toward Hawaii sometime between 1425 and 1665, the study found. It’s possible that another large Alaskan earthquake could trigger a comparable tsunami on Hawaii’s shores in the future, experts said.

The tsunami was at least three times the size of the damaging 1946 tsunami, which was driven by an 8.6-magnitude earthquake off the Aleutian Islands. Mammoth tsunamis, like the one described in the study, are rare, and likely happen once every thousand years. There’s a 0.1 percent chance it could happen in any given year, the same probability that northeastern Japan had for the 9.0-magnitude 2011 Tohoku earthquake and related tsunami, said Gerald Fryer, a geophysicist at the pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, who was not involved in the study. [Waves of Destruction: History’s 8 Biggest Tsunamis]

Results of the study have already prompted Honolulu officials to revise their tsunami evacuation maps, Fryer said. The new maps, which will affect nearly 1 million people who live in Honolulu County, would include more than twice the area of evacuation in some areas, Fryer said in a statement. County officials hope to distribute the new maps by the end of 2014, Fryer said.

“You’re going to have great earthquakes on planet Earth, and you’re going to have great tsunamis,” said the study’s lead researcher, Rhett Butler, a geophysicist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “People have to at least appreciate that the possibility is there.”

Evidence of the colossal tsunami surfaced in the late 1990s during the excavation of the Makauwahi sinkhole, a collapsed limestone cave on the south coast of Kauai. About 6.5 feet (2 meters) below the surface, study researcher David Burney found a bounty of old debris that must have come from the ocean.

Curiously, the sinkhole’s mouth is 328 feet (100 m) away from the present-day shore, and 23 feet (7 m) above sea level, suggesting the enormous quantities of corals and shells were probably carried there by a gigantic wave, Burney, a paleoecologist at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kalaheo, said. But he needed more evidence to back up his claim.

Tsunami surge

The debris remained a mystery until the 2011 Tohoku earthquake hit Japan. The earthquake triggered a rapid surge of water that stood 128 feet (39 m) above sea level and pummeled the Japanese coast. Soon after, researchers revisited Hawaii’s tsunami evacuation maps. The maps are largely based on the 1946 tsunami, which caused water to rise 8 feet (2.5 m) up the side of the Makauwahi sinkhole.

“[The Japan earthquake] was bigger than almost any seismologist thought possible,” Butler said. “Seeing [on live TV] the devastation it caused, I began to wonder, did we get it right in Hawaii? Are our evacuation zones the correct size?”

Butler and his colleagues assembled a wave model to predict how a tsunami might flood Kauai’s coastline. They simulated earthquakes ranging between magnitudes 9.0 and 9.6 along the Aleutian-Alaska subduction zone, a 2,113-mile-long (3,400 kilometers) ocean trench where the Pacific tectonic plate slips under the North American plate.

In the aftermath of a large earthquake, the eastern Aleutians’ distinctive geography could send a large tsunami toward Hawaii, the researchers found. In fact, a magnitude- 9.0 earthquake in just the right spot could easily direct water levels of 26 to 30 feet (8 to 9 m) high toward Kauai, carrying debris into the Makauwahi sinkhole, they found. [Photos: Tsunami Debris & Trash on Hawaii’s Beaches]

The researchers also looked for tsunami evidence in other places. Radiocarbon dating showed that the marine deposits in the sinkhole, on Sedanka Island off the coast of Alaska and along the west coasts of Canada and the United States all date back to the same time period, and may have come from the same tsunami.

“[The researchers] stitched together geological evidence, anthropological information as well as geophysical modeling to put together this story that is tantalizing for a geologist, but it’s frightening for people in Hawaii,” Robert Witter, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska, who was not involved in the study, said in the statement.

More evidence is needed to determine whether the deposits came from the same tsunami, Witter said. For instance, radiocarbon dating, which the study researchers relied on, only gives a rough time estimate. It’s possible that multiple tsunamis between 350 and 575 years ago deposited the debris at the three locations, he said.

But the sinkhole debris may be evidence enough that a huge tsunami hit Hawaii hundreds of years ago, he added. “An important next thing to do is to look for evidence for tsunamis elsewhere in the Hawaiian island chain,” Witter said.

Researchers will likely find more evidence of the giant tsunami, Fryer added. “I’ve seen the deposit, ” Fryer said. “I’m absolutely convinced it’s a tsunami, and it had to be a monster tsunami.”

The study was published Oct. 3 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter @LauraGeggel and Google+. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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500-Year-Old Traces of Monster Hawaii Tsunami Discovered

Special Report: As seas rise, a slow-motion disaster gnaws at U.S. shores

By Ryan McNeill, Deborah J. Nelson and Duff Wilson

SAXIS, Virginia (Reuters) – Chincoteague is the gateway to a national wildlife refuge blessed with a stunning mile-long beach – a major tourist draw and source of big business for the community.

But the beach has been disappearing at an average rate of 10 to 22 feet a year, as a warming planet and other forces lift sea levels. The access road and parking lot have been rebuilt five times in the past decade because of coastal flooding, at a total cost of $3 million.

Officials who run Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge say they face a losing battle against rising sea levels. In 2010, they proposed to move the beach to a safer spot, shrink the parking lot, and shuttle in tourists by bus.

The town revolted. Chincoteague wants the federal government to continue to rebuild rather than retreat. Four years on, after a series of angry public meetings, the sea keeps eating the shore, and the government keeps spending to fix the damage.

The people of Chincoteague are engaged in a battle at the water’s edge against rising seas. All along U.S. shores, people, businesses and governments are confronting rising seas not as a future possibility. For them, the ocean’s rise is a troubling everyday reality.

Reuters gathered more than 25 million hourly readings from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tide gauges at nearly 70 sites on the U.S. coast and compared them to flood thresholds documented by the National Weather Service.

The analysis was then narrowed to include only the 25 gauges with data spanning at least five decades. During that period, the average number of days a year that tidal waters reached or exceeded NOAA flood thresholds increased at all but two sites and tripled at more than half of the locations.

The coastal flooding is often minor. Its cumulative consequences are not. As flooding increases in both height and frequency, it exacts a toll in closed businesses, repeated repairs, and investment in protection. In effect, higher seas make the same level of storm and even the same high tides more damaging than they used to be.

In Charleston, South Carolina, a six-lane highway floods when high tides prevent storm water from draining into the Atlantic, making it difficult for half the town’s 120,000 residents to get to three hospitals and police headquarters.

In Annapolis, Maryland, home to the U.S. Naval Academy, half a foot of water flooded the colonial district, a National Historic Landmark, at high tide on Chesapeake Bay during rainstorms on April 30, May 1, May 16 and Aug. 12.

Engineers say there are three possible responses to rising waters: undertake coastal defense projects; adapt with actions like raising roads; or abandon land to the sea. Lacking a national strategy, the United States applies these measures haphazardly.

Congress actually recognized global warming way back in 1978 with passage of the National Climate Program Act. The law aimed to “assist the Nation and the world to understand and respond to natural and man-induced climate processes and their implications.”

But after $47 billion in direct federal spending on climate change research, Congress hasn’t passed a major piece of legislation to deal specifically with the effects of rising sea levels.

“In the U.S., you have best data set on what’s happening in the world, and yet it’s not used in public policy,” said Robert Nicholls, professor of coastal engineering at the University of Southampton in England and a contributor to the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The lack of clear policy is evident in Chincoteague, population 3,000.

Most visitors come for the mile of ocean-facing public recreational beach, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge. Visitors can drive with all of their gear right up to the edge of the beach to park in a 1,000-space crushed-shell lot.

As erosion worsened, the cost to American taxpayers of repeated destruction of the parking lot and causeway from rising sea levels would only increase, Fish and Wildlife officials said. In 2010, the agency proposed moving the beach to a less-endangered site.

Town leaders pointed to a survey in which 80 percent of visitors said they would not continue coming to the beach if they had to park in town and take a shuttle. Residents also feared that Fish and Wildlife would let the southern end of Assateague Island erode away if the beach were moved.

A series of angry meetings with local Fish and Wildlife officials resolved nothing.

In 2012, Chincoteague got a hearing at the U.S. Capitol on the proposal. Wanda Thornton, an Accomack county supervisor, testified that local residents feared for their jobs.

The agency released a draft plan in May that would relocate the beach to the less unstable site, but keep the parking area at its current size, as long as there’s enough land to do so. As many residents feared, this plan would not replenish the sand at the southern end of Assateague or at the new site as they erode.

A public hearing in Chincoteague on June 26 failed to settle the matter.

(This is an abridged version of a special report. The full package, including unabridged text, interactive graphics and video, is on Reuters.com at http://reut.rs/1nyd8pK )

(Edited by John Blanton)

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Special Report: As seas rise, a slow-motion disaster gnaws at U.S. shores