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Evaluation of dynamic coastal response to sea-level rise modifies inundation likelihood

Abstract

Sea-level rise (SLR) poses a range of threats to natural and built environments1,2, making assessments of SLR-induced hazards essential for informed decision making3. We develop a probabilistic model that evaluates the likelihood that an area will inundate (flood) or dynamically respond (adapt) to SLR. The broad-area applicability of the approach is demonstrated by producing 30 × 30 m resolution predictions for more than 38,000 km2 of diverse coastal landscape in the northeastern United States. Probabilistic SLR projections, coastal elevation and vertical land movement are used to estimate likely future inundation levels. Then, conditioned on future inundation levels and the current land-cover type, we evaluate the likelihood of dynamic response versus inundation. We find that nearly 70% of this coastal landscape has some capacity to respond dynamically to SLR, and we show that inundation models over-predict land likely to submerge. This approach is well suited to guiding coastal resource management decisions that weigh future SLR impacts and uncertainty against ecological targets and economic constraints.

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Figure 1: Conceptual model and dynamic probability assignments.
Figure 2: Comparison of predicted outcomes for Plum Island, Massachusetts.
Figure 3: Spatiotemporal changes in probability distributions at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware.
Figure 4: Plots showing shifting coastal response likelihoods for each land-cover type through time conditioned on moderate initial (present day) elevations.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the US Geological Survey Coastal and Marine Geology Program, the Department of the Interior Northeast Climate Science Center, and the US Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources under the Responses to Climate Change Program. We thank B. Strauss at Climate Central’s Surging Seas project for permission to use their base map in Fig. 2, and C. Ruppel and M. Gonneea for early reviews and discussion of this manuscript. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

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E.R.T. and N.G.P. developed the concept; E.E.L., N.G.P. and E.R.T. conceptualized and designed the model; N.G.P. built the model; E.E.L. and S.R.S. performed the model runs; E.E.L. assessed and analysed the data; R.M.H. contributed the SLR projections; D.B.J. contributed regional elevation data; E.E.L., E.R.T. and N.G.P. co-wrote the paper with input from all co-authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Erika E. Lentz.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Lentz, E., Thieler, E., Plant, N. et al. Evaluation of dynamic coastal response to sea-level rise modifies inundation likelihood. Nature Clim Change 6, 696–700 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2957

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