Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Coastal habitats shield people and property from sea-level rise and storms

This article has been updated

Abstract

Extreme weather, sea-level rise and degraded coastal ecosystems are placing people and property at greater risk of damage from coastal hazards1,2,3,4,5. The likelihood and magnitude of losses may be reduced by intact reefs and coastal vegetation1, especially when those habitats fringe vulnerable communities and infrastructure. Using five sea-level-rise scenarios, we calculate a hazard index for every 1 km2 of the United States coastline. We use this index to identify the most vulnerable people and property as indicated by being in the upper quartile of hazard for the nation’s coastline. The number of people, poor families, elderly and total value of residential property that are most exposed to hazards can be reduced by half if existing coastal habitats remain fully intact. Coastal habitats defend the greatest number of people and total property value in Florida, New York and California. Our analyses deliver the first national map of risk reduction owing to natural habitats and indicates where conservation and restoration of reefs and vegetation have the greatest potential to protect coastal communities.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Coastal habitats reduce by approximately 50% the proportion of people and property along the US coastline that are most exposed to storms and sea-level rise.
Figure 2: Exposure of the US coastline and coastal population to sea-level rise in 2100 (A2 scenario) and storms.
Figure 3: Nature’s shield for total residential property value.
Figure 4: Nature’s shield for socially vulnerable counties.

Change history

  • 01 August 2013

    In the version of this Letter originally published online, the second sentence of the Acknowledgements section should have read "We thank Zillow and the many individuals and institutions that provided data (see Supplementary Information for full details)". This error has now been corrected in all versions of the Letter.

References

  1. Day, J. W. et al. Restoration of the mississippi delta: Lessons from hurricanes katrina and rita. Science 315, 1679–1684 (2007).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Shepard, C. et al. Assessing future risk: Quantifying the effects of sea level rise on storm surge risk for the southern shores of Long Island, New York. Nat. Hazards 60, 727–745 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. CCSP Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2009).

  4. Nicholls, R. J., Hoozemans, F. M. J. & Marchand, M. Increasing flood risk and wetland losses due to global sea-level rise: Regional and global analyses. Glob. Environ. Change 9 (Suppl. 1), S69–S87 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Sallenger, A. H., Doran, K. S. & Howd, P. A. Hotspot of accelerated sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast of North America. Nature Clim. Change 2, 884–888 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. IPCC Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report (eds Pachauri, R. K. & Reisinger, A.) 104 (IPCC, 2007).

  7. Burgess, K. & Townend, I. The Impact of Climate Change upon Coastal Defense Structures (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2004).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Hillen, M. M. et al. Coastal Defense Cost Estimates: Case Study of the Netherlands, New Orleans and Vietnam (Delft University of Technology, Royal Haskoning, University Southampton, 2010).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Peterson, M. S. & Lowe, M. R. Implications of cumulative impacts to estuarine and marine habitat quality for fish and invertebrate resources. Rev. Fish. Sci. 17, 505–523 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Defeo, O. et al. Threats to sandy beach ecosystems: A review. Estuar. Coast. Shelf S. 81, 1–12 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Stainable Coast (Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, 2012).

  12. Mukherjee, N., Balakrishnan, M. & Shanker, K. in Integrated Coastal Zone Management (eds Moksness, E., Dahl, E. & Støttrup, J.) 131–144 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009); available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781444316285.ch10/summary.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  13. National Research Council Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, America’s Climate Choices (National Academies, 2010).

  14. Barbier, E. B. et al. Coastal ecosystem-based management with nonlinear ecological functions and values. Science 319, 321–323 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Jones, H. P., Hole, D. G. & Zavaleta, E. S. Harnessing nature to help people adapt to climate change. Nature Clim. Change 2, 504–509 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Hammar-Klose, E. S. & Thieler, E. R. Coastal vulnerability to sea-level rise: A preliminary database for the US Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico Coasts. (US Geological Survey Digital Data Series, Vol. 68, 2001).

  17. Gornitz, V. Vulnerability of the east coast, USA to future sea level rise. J. Coast. Res. 201–237 (1990).

  18. Cutter, S. L., Emrich, C. T., Webb, J. J. & Morath, D. Social Vulnerability to Climate Variability Hazards: A Review of the Literature (Oxfam America, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Boruff, B. J., Emrich, C. & Cutter, S. L. Erosion hazard vulnerability of US coastal counties. J. Coast. Res. 215, 932–942 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Tollefson, J. Hurricane sweeps into climate-adaptation debate. Nature 491, 167–168 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Tallis, H. et al. InVEST 2.3.0 User’s Guide (The Natural Capital Project, 2011); available at http://ncp-dev.stanford.edu/~dataportal/invest-releases/documentation/current_release/.

  22. The 2006–2010 American Community Survey 5 Year Summary File Technical Documentation (US Census Bureau, 2011); available at http://www2.census.gov/acs2010_5yr/summaryfile/ACS_2006-2010_SF_Tech_Doc.pdf.

  23. What is a Zestimate? (Zillow, 2012); available at http://www.zillow.com/wikipages/What-is-a-Zestimate/.

  24. Parris, A. et al. Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the US National Climate Assessment Tech Memo OAR CPO-1 (NOAA, 2012).

  25. Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute The Spatial Hazard Events and Losses Database for the United States (University of South Carolina, 2011); available at http://www.sheldus.org.

  26. Feuer, A. Protecting New York City, Before Next Time. New York Times(3 November 2012); available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/nyregion/protecting-new-york-city-before-next-time.html.

  27. IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (eds Nakicenovic, N. & Swart, R.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).

  28. Sea Level Variations of the United States (1854 to 2006) Derived from 128 National Water Level Observation Network Stations (NOAA’s Ocean Service); available at http://www.ncddc.noaa.gov/approved_recs/nos_de/coops/coops/coops/sl_trend.html.

  29. Tolman, H. L. User Manual and System Documentation of WAVEWATCH III version 3.14 Technical Note (US Department of Commerce, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, National Centers for Environmental Predictions, 2009).

  30. Hemer, M. A., Fan, Y., Mori, N., Semedo, A. & Wang, X. L. Projected changes in wave climate from a multi-model ensemble. Nature Clim. Change 3, 471–476 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Mennis, J. Generating surface models of population using dasymetric mapping. Prof. Geogr. 55, 31–42 (2003).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for financial support and for hosting the National Climate Assessment Biodiversity, Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services Technical Chapter working group. We thank Zillow and the many individuals and institutions that provided data (see Supplementary Information for full details). We also thank J. Burke, G. Gelfenbaum, R. Griffin, C. K. Kim, J. Lawler, M. Plummer, P. Ruggiero, J. Samhouri, H. Tallis, J. Toft and G. Ziv for discussions during this research. Links for downloading the coastal hazard index and data, and visualizing results are available at www.naturalcapitalproject.org.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

P.K., M.R., K.K.A., G.G., A.G., S.A.W. and G.V. conceived the research. G.G. and G.V. developed the coastal hazard index. K.A., G.V. and S.W. carried out analyses. K.K.A., G.G., G.V. and S.A.W. collected the data. M.L. and J.M.S. helped with data collection and analyses. K.K.A. wrote the paper with contributions from A.G., G.G, P.K., M.R., J.M.S., G.V. and S.A.W.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Katie K. Arkema.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Arkema, K., Guannel, G., Verutes, G. et al. Coastal habitats shield people and property from sea-level rise and storms. Nature Clim Change 3, 913–918 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1944

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1944

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing