Changing Landscapes on Assateague Island

The effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and intensifying storms, will alter the landscape at Assateague Island, affecting the access and experience that visitors enjoy today. The park staff is working to adapt, restore, and protect island resources.

Barrier islands such as Assateague will be especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change and sea-level rise, and we must be able to respond effectively.

Trish Kicklighter, Former Superintendent, Assateague Island National Seashore
Water covering fish factory ruins

Overwash at fish factory ruins, Virginia District

NPS photo

Assateague Island encompasses 37 miles along the coasts of Maryland and Virginia, part of a chain of barrier islands stretching from Maine to Texas. Its landscape is constantly changing as natural coastal processes, storms, and sea-level rise continue to shape and move the island. Climate change will speed up the normal rate of change, and the staff Assateague Island is working to prepare for its effects.

Scientists project that by 2040 the island will experience increases in temperature and extreme weather, a sea level rise of 3.5–9 inches, and altered precipitation patterns. These changes will magnify the normal coastal processes that shape the island. For example, rising sea levels will increase the rate of overwash—the washing of water and deposition of sand toward the island interior—that allows barrier islands to migrate or rollover westward. Intensifying storms and rising sea levels will create new breaches and inlets.


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Tags: assateague island national seashore, climate change, climate change effects, sea level rise