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Risk of isolation increases the expected burden from sea-level rise


The typical displacement metric for sea-level rise adaptation planning is property inundation. However, this metric may underestimate risk as it does not fully capture the wider cascading or indirect effects of sea-level rise. To address this, we propose complementing it by considering the risk of population isolation: those who may be cut off from essential services. We investigate the importance of this metric by comparing the number of people at risk from inundation to the number of people at risk from isolation. Considering inundated roadways during mean higher high water tides in the coastal United States shows, although highly spatially variable, that the increase across the United States varies between 30% and 90% and is several times higher in some states. We find that risk of isolation may occur decades sooner than risk of inundation. Both risk metrics provide critical information for evaluating adaptation options and giving priority to support for at-risk communities.

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Fig. 1: The number of people burdened by SLR is significantly higher when the risk of isolation is considered, rather than only the risk of inundation.
Fig. 2: Comparison of risk of inundation and isolation for the coastal United States.
Fig. 3: Residents may become isolated long before they are expected to be displaced due to SLR.
Fig. 4: Time lag between onset of isolation and inundation by SLR.

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Data and results are presented on our interactive dashboard Network nearest distance data are available on request. The remaining data are publicly available and detailed in Methods.

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We thank D. Niemeier, National Academy of Engineering (NAE), for her review and comments. This research was supported by the National Academies Gulf Research Program Early-Career Research Fellowship and the National Science Foundation (grant no. 1940273). The support of the sponsors is gratefully acknowledged. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academies or the National Science Foundation. We also thank the University of Canterbury’s Cluster for Community and Urban Resilience (CURe) and the Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering.

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T.M.L. was involved in conceptualization, methodology, software, validation, formal analysis, investigation, resources, data curation, writing the original draft and reviewing and editing, visualization, supervision, project administration and funding acquisition. M.J.A. contributed to methodology, software, formal analysis and data curation. A.C.R. undertook conceptualization, methodology, investigation, writing the original draft and reviewing and editing, visualization and funding acquisition.

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Correspondence to T. M. Logan.

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T.M.L. and M.J.A. have shares in the risk consulting firm Urban Intelligence. A.C.R. declares no competing interests.

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Logan, T.M., Anderson, M.J. & Reilly, A.C. Risk of isolation increases the expected burden from sea-level rise. Nat. Clim. Chang. 13, 397–402 (2023).

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