The tenth iteration of Keeping History Above Water took place May 7-9th, 2023 at the AC Hotel in Portsmouth, NH in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of the city’s settlement. The conference was hosted by three institutions working together to assess the impacts of sea level rise in the city: Strawbery Banke Museum, the City of Portsmouth Planning and Sustainability and Wastewater Divisions, and the University of NH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space. 165 attendees were welcomed to the three-day conference to explore “Water Has a Memory: Preserving Historic Port Cities from Sea Level Rise.”
KHAW Portsmouth 2023 welcomed 27 speakers, including US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Portsmouth Mayor Deaglan McEachern, author Howard Mansfield, NOAA Senior Advisor for Coastal Inundation and Resilience Mark Osler, UNH climatologist and research professor Dr. Cameron Wake and case studies detailing how municipalities and preservationists from Portland ME to Tidewater VA are addressing the challenges of sea level rise.
The message repeated throughout the conference was, “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ sea level rise flooding will have increasing impact.
As Howard Mansfield, author of The Habit of Turning the World Upside Down said in his keynote, “We are in daily conflict with the tides. The reassuring sense of continuity is gone and there is no going back.”
NOAA’s Mark Osler reported that while the interconnectedness of water cycles in poorly understood, sea level rise has “inarguably evolved past natural fluctuations.” Billion-dollar climate change weather disasters that in the 1980s happened on average once every four months, now happen every three weeks. He said, “We won’t address these facts with ‘top down’ answers and solutions, they must be defined and sustained locally, with support.”
Many of the speakers provided tools and resources to guide local communities as they take action: the NOAA Flood Risk Assessment & Application Guide, the NH Coastal Flood Risk Summary, and the US Senate Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Zoning Atlas. In addition to the presentations, the group visited the City’s Prescott Park for an on-site discussion of planned resiliency efforts around the historic 1806 Shaw Warehouse, Strawbery Banke to understand its Water Management Master Plan and the city’s oldest cemetery – the 1671 Point of Graves Burying Ground.