April 16, 2018

How global warming is accelerating the profound natural forces already reshaping the lower Eastern Shore.

One of the most enjoyable cruises on the Chesapeake is working up the Pocomoke River in springtime to the Great Cypress Swamp at Shad Landing in the state park. Spring is one of the best times to tour this area because flowers are in bloom, the leafing trees are brilliant green, and hardly anyone is on the river.

Pocomoke River

Continue a few more miles on the Pocomoke to the delightful town of Snow Hill, Maryland, and other forces at work become readily apparent. I came into this lower Eastern Shore town recently at exactly high tide to find myself, not looking up a steep bank to see the roofs of buildings, but down at the pavement in parking lots, eye level with the people walking along the shore. There was precious few inches between the surface of the water and the flat land on which the town sits.

The same can be seen leaving the security of Route 50 at Vienna, Maryland, and driving south to Elliott Island, once a thriving fishing community. Do it after a few days of heavy rain, and the drive is done literally at sea level, a winding black road through a landscape that alternates between phragmite forests and broad expanses of yellow wetlands. Water laps the curb on both sides of the road unless it has crept over and covered portions of it. It's hard not to come away with the feeling that six more inches of the land sinking and the water rising, both of which are happening, large parts of Dorchester County will become an inland sea.

A new collaboration by Sandy Cannon-Brown, Tom Horton and Dave Harp does an excellent job illustrating the transformation underway in Dorchester County and the impact on its communities. High Tide in Dorchester explains the multiple factors reshaping the lower Eastern Shore, a place Tom Horton describes as “rural Ground Zero” in climate change on the Chesapeake. Geologic change is also at work, and the film describes changes that are distant and theoretical, but present and actual.

Photograph by Dave Harp

A short version of High Tide in Dorchester can be found here and the full length version here.

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