Science needs for sea level adaptation planning

  • 19 October 2015
  • Number of views: 3965 five million people in the United States live within four feet of the local high-tide level. In the next several decades, many of these regions will experience  the effects of coastal flooding and sea level rise. To try and prepare for these impacts, many coastal cities and states along the East Coast are working with all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, the business community, and academia to help improve their resilience to coastal inundation and sea level rise.

A new paper by Lindeman et. al—supported by the Climate Program Office—performed a synthesis of science needs from coastal communities by reporting on workshops held in Florida, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. The paper, “Science Needs for Sea-Level Adaptation Planning: Comparisons among Three U.S. Atlantic Coastal Regions,” was published online in the journal of Coastal Management on October 14, 2015.  

These workshops, which were conducted in the summer of 2012, comprised more than 100 attendees from five stakeholder groups: federal and state governments, local governments, universities, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations. Researchers used text analysis in order to discern content most frequently discussed during the meetings’ breakout groups. Groups identified five themes as priority topics. analytic tools, communications, land use, ecosystem management, and economics.


Interventions to improve coastal resilience require sound scientific information that is at the right scale and complexity level and is readily accessible by all stakeholders. In many communities, coastal resilience planning has not formally begun, so stakeholders requested advanced prediction tools but also simple messaging.  The workshop attendees sought the advanced prediction tools to benefit current and future land use planning but also recognized that simple communications practices were necessary for decision makers facing politically challenging and complex planning questions. In fact, the phrase “simple messaging” appeared with the highest frequency among the breakout groups.

Experts also sought shorter time scales for sea level rise projections. Traditionally, projections reach to the year 2100, but workshop attendees sought projections for 2060: a challenge to current prediction tools. Researchers believe this result reflects challenges and opportunities for planning beyond geophysical time scales, such as planning related to mortgage periods and election cycles.

“In the face of this continued coastal growth, the complicated processes underpinning sea level rise projections create challenges in attempting to scale and integrate complex information from the geophysical sciences into adaptation planning at community and regional scales,” wrote the authors.

To access a full version of this paper, visit:

The workshops and analysis were a component of NOAA Climate Program Office Award NA11OAR43101, Advanced Regional & Decadal Predictions of Coastal Inundation for the U.S. Atlantic & Gulf Coasts awarded to Ben Horton (Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers). This assessment of science needs feeds directly into CPO programs to inform our research priorities and competitions.




Americans’ health, security and economic wellbeing are tied to climate and weather. Every day, we see communities grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual or extreme events related to climate and weather. In 2017, the United States experienced a record-tying 16 climate- and weather-related disasters where overall costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. Combined, these events claimed 362 lives, and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted, costing more than $306 billion. Businesses, policy leaders, resource managers and citizens are increasingly asking for information to help them address such challenges.


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