Midway through presenting results of their research into a microgrid for Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, searching for balance between solar and diesel, one of the midshipmen paused as slides of complicated graphs and charts appeared out of order.

It’s May 1, the first day of summer whites at the Naval Academy. High up in a third-floor classroom of Hopper Hall, the slightly flustered mid asked his colleagues to go back. Go forward. Go back.

“OK, well this shows the difference,” he said, finding his place and moving on.

Any college senior might recognize this moment — when a capstone project presentation goes briefly awry. But this is the Naval Academy, so the real pressure came when a Pentagon official who traveled to Annapolis for this specific project started asking questions.

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“I’m just wondering if you could walk us through one of those 40 plots again,” asked Michael McGhee, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment and energy Resilience. “Can you just walk us through maybe the one that’s most significant for you and explain the axis?”

The commencement ceremony on Friday will be about celebration and tradition. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will speak, and for the first time a woman superintendent, Vice Adm. Yvette Davids, will address the graduates.

But when the last members of the Class of 2024 reach mandatory retirement age in 2066, things are likely to look very different in Annapolis and around the world.

Studies of climate-driven sea level rise show the Chesapeake Bay will be more than a foot higher than it is today. At the Naval Academy and Navy bases around the world, future commanding officers will spend their careers coping with disruptions caused by rising tides and a shift away from the fossil fuels causing the global warming behind the flooding.

Some of this year’s graduates are among the first to get what academy leadership hopes will be the foundation for figuring out how to deal with it. In April, the academy announced the creation of the Center for Energy Security and Infrastructure Resilience to teach mids about energy security, climate adaptation and infrastructure resilience.

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“Let’s just put aside the military side and China ... the climate issue is going to be a big deal for this generation, in a way that has not been for me,” said CESIR Director Robert Fishman, who holds the academy’s McNeill chair in engineering. “I mean, when I was here, 50 years ago, there was no flooding. We never never saw it. Not once.

“My son graduated and he was here for Hurricane Isabel. So he saw four feet of water in this building. Now it’s once a week. So this generation is going to have to deal with temperature rise, climate change and a variety of other issues,” Fishman said.

This year, half of the sophomore class took courses that exposed them to the ideas behind the understanding of climate change and its consequences. Next year, all of them will. They’ll also be able to see evidence of the outcome every day.

The Naval Academy is spending $38 million to adapt its sea wall to cope with higher sea levels, which makes flooding caused by storms more dangerous. Some roads and walkways are regularly impassible because of high water. There already has been discussion of moving the academy before flooding makes its location on the Chesapeake Bay unusable by 2100.

That picture will grow worse. Soon. Naval Academy projections show flooding is growing exponentially right now, not at a gradual pace. The City of Annapolis is on pace to experience 120 flood events at City Dock this year, twice the number recorded in record-setting 2019.

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And the academy and Annapolis are not alone. The Department of Navy describes climate change flooding as an existential threat to national security and is spending billions to cope with changes over the next six years. Bloomberg News went further, projecting the cost of climate change to installations involved in everything from U.S. space exploration to veterans care could top $387 billion by 2050.

Even if humans somehow manage to control their greenhouse gas emissions and slow the rate of temperature climb, these are consequences of what has happened up to now.

Fishman and others behind the creation of CESIR hope to capitalize on the academy’s frontline exposure to these problems, using it as a sort of living laboratory focused on working and coping with the consequences of climate change.

Across several academic departments, the academy has focused on technical responses — including collaboration with Annapolis and its $88 million climate project — since the creation of the Sea Level Rise Advisory Council in 2015

It took Fishman, who teaches mechanical and nuclear engineering, to see the potential of combining that work.

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“It was really Bob’s vision to say there’s all this work going on ... Can we kind of make that one big thing that’s not duplicating effort and it’s actually doing something?” said associate professor Tori Johnson, who works on using natural features to counteract flooding.

Although the center is new, the ideas embedded in it were widely reflected in this year’s capstone projects, like the one on a microgrid using solar power.

“I think energy transition is a function of a couple of things,” said Fishman, who served as an energy company CEO twice after retiring from the Navy. “One is its cost. The other is ability to scale it up.”

The United States can’t go from 6% wind and solar to making it the major source overnight, and one of the biggest challenges is rebuilding the power grid. Today, it links central power stations and big cities. That will have to change if smaller, renewable resources spread around the country are going to work, Fishman said.

A Navy air station in Sicily might be a place to experiment. Maybe that’s what drew the attention of McGhee — whose job focuses on providing secure power for weapons and installations.

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“You know, we’ve got to start,” Fishman said.

Graduating midshipmen tuck their covers as they begin their procession onto the field for the Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony in 2023. This year’s graduates will leave with a better understanding of climate change. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Among the dozens of projects discussed across campus on that first day of May, which covered the humanities, sciences and engineering, 19 were related to CESIR studies. Some included flood mitigation using mangroves in Ghana or the impact of climate change at the Pituffik Space Base in Greenland.

Mids also focused on concerns right next door, studying the changing nature of tornadoes in Annapolis, how well different sea wall designs work, environmental inequities along the Chesapeake Bay, and the accuracy of marine forecasts.

“We also want to get to the point where we can start doing predictions,” said assistant professor Liliana Velásquez Montoya, who teaches the use of numerical models in the study of coastal flooding. “We know a storm is coming, what is going to happen? How are areas of the yard going to flood, and by how much?”

Midshipmen graduating this year will celebrate as their predecessors have, jumping into a fountain or pool in a dress uniform that they are exchanging for that of an ensign or a second lieutenant. Some will get married at the Naval Academy Chapel. Most will leave Annapolis, if not flooding problems, behind.

If the ideas behind CESIR work, they’ll take an understanding that climate change is coming for the Navy just like everyone else.

They’re the ones who must figure out how to live with it.