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Preparing Coastal Communities for Climate Change: Translating Model Results to Prepare Ports, Harbors and Stormwater Management Facilities in an Era of Climate Variability and Scientific Uncertainty

The potential effects of climate change on our nation’s coastal communities have received
significant attention due to the predicted compounded effects of sea level change, potential
increases in storm intensities, large-scale coastal erosion and increased variability in weather
patterns. These effects are likely to be further exacerbated by continued population growth on low lying and exposed coastal regions resulting in significant social and economic impacts. Sectors involved in the construction of and planning for coastal infrastructure – such as ports, marinas, storm water managers and community planners – need to be aware of the long-term forecasts for climate change impacts as they make decisions today that will shape this infrastructure for the next 50-100 years. While the probable impacts of climate change to the
Great Lakes region differ in some respects from the forecasts for the marine coasts – for example, most early modeling efforts describe decreased water levels, with estimates of 0.3 to 1.4 meters below present lake levels (“Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region”, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2003) – major obstacles to motivating decision makers and managers to prepare for climate change remain the same. These obstacles include: (1) translating global effects of climate change to the local and regional scales at which planning and management decisions are made, (2) translating scientific models for use by decision makers and key stakeholders, (3) conveying an understanding of scientific uncertainty inherent in modeling, (4) planning for scenarios of increased variability, and (5) generating a will to act and a plan for action in a framework of uncertainty and variability.

We propose a two-faceted approach to address the obstacles inherent in preparing for climate
change, particularly as they are faced by ports, marinas, stormwater managers and community
planners: (a) a scientific component to translate global effects to relevant scales and terms and to reduce uncertainty of specific key forecasts or scenarios and (b) an outreach component to build a communication framework that framework that resonates with managers despite scientific uncertainty and variability.

Combining science and outreach will allow us to: (a) involve key stakeholder sectors (ports,
marinas, stormwater managers and community planners) in identifying key climate change
scenario forecasting needs, (b) conduct modeling for key priority scenarios, (c) conduct a detailed economic impact (cost) assessment for the impact of climate change on Great Lakes ports and marinas, (d) develop a strategic plan for communicating scientific information about climate change to key stakeholder sectors (ports, marinas, stormwater managers and community planners), (e) develop centralized tools for communicating about climate change and scientific uncertainty/variability which are translatable to other regions and other sectors, (f) develop case studies which can be used in communicating about the impacts of climate change and (g) lay the groundwork for development of visualization products which can be used in communicating about climate change.

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