March 01, 2013

Thinking Ahead: The Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Landscape Protections

Mounting evidence is confirming that sea level rise is related to climate change and will continue to occur in the foreseeable future. See U.S. Global Change Research Program, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States 18 (2009). The impact of sea level rise on coastal landscapes can be significant and markedly different than the other dynamic forces of tides and storm events mentioned above. Unlike these other forces, sea level rise fundamentally changes the land-sea interface, particularly for low-lying coastal areas where there is a slight and gradual gradient of elevation moving landward from the ocean. In low-lying coastal areas, modest increases in sea level rise can impact large swaths of adjacent dry land, creating permanently submerged land from what was previously dry land. This kind of change to the coastal landscape is significant because, in many cases, it is irreversible in timescales that are operative for human beings.

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