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The Use of Climate Information in Vulnerability Assessments

Details of Pilot Sea-Level Rise Estimation Approaches

Each of the FHWA pilot studies accounted for sea-level rise vulnerability differently. The following sections attempt to outline some of the key aspects of their respective technical choices regarding data sets and methods, as well as the goals and partnerships involved in their assessments.

Specifically, we've tried to capture the following decisions made by the pilots:

New Jersey

Since sea-level rise is a very important impact to the New Jersey coastal study area, the pilot conducted its own inundation mapping.

Oahu MPO

The Oahu MPO pilot worked closely with Dr. Chip Fletcher and his lab at the University of Hawaii to develop high resolution inundation maps of the study area.

There are several additional pieces of information that the Oahu MPO would like to explore, including:

Oahu MPO has engaged regional transportation planners and other stakeholders regarding sea-level rise. During the MPO's workshop with stakeholders, the Oahu MPO pilot used "what if" scenarios to help participants think through consequences of climate change, including scenarios of sea-level rise.

San Francisco

The purpose of the San Francisco pilot sea-level rise mapping was to inform community and project level planning. Therefore, the pilot's inundation maps are based on very high resolution elevation data and account for local factors such as shoreline protection, inundation depth and extent, wind and wave effects, and hydrologic continuity. The pilot worked closely with Noah Knowles and updated the methodology in Knowles (2009) with new LiDAR data.

Virginia DOT/Hampton Roads

The goal of the Virginia DOT/Hampton Roads inundation and storm surge work was to generate realistic scenarios that could be used as inputs into the pilot's multi-criteria decision analysis framework. The Hampton Roads region is highly vulnerable to sea-level rise partially because the area is already subsiding due to geological processes and groundwater withdrawals (HRPDC 2011). One of the main goals of the Virginia pilot was to construct and assess the influence of climate-change scenarios (primarily sea-level rise and storm surge) to the strategic priorities of long-range transportation plans. The pilot relied on sea-level rise and storm surge data from an ongoing Hampton Roads Planning District Commission study.

To get a sense of sea-level rise exposure, HRPDC analyzed historical sea-level rise trends, including subsidence of the land surface, and found that the regional average is 1-2 feet of sea-level rise over the past 100 years. The project assumed that the historical rate of sea-level rise will continue in the future, while recognizing the importance of monitoring trends and adjusting for any acceleration in sea-level rise.

The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) is currently in its second year of a climate change adaptation project that focuses on sea-level rise and storm surge.

Washington State DOT

The Washington State DOT worked closely with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington to develop LiDAR-based inundation maps of the study area. During the pilot's workshops to identify vulnerable assets, workshop participants "ground-truthed" the maps by pointing out missing assets, areas already being impacted, or other factors that should be considered in the vulnerability assessment. The pilot anticipates that these maps will also serve as communication tools to educate influential decisionmakers in Washington State.


CCSP (2009). Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region. A report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. [James G. Titus (Coordinating Lead Author), K. Eric Anderson, Donald R. Cahoon, Dean B. Gesch, Stephen K. Gill, Benjamin T. Gutierrez, E. Robert Thieler, and S. Jeffress Williams (Lead Authors)]. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington D.C., USA, 320 pp.

Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) (2011). Climate Change in Hampton Roads Phase 2: Storm Surge Vulnerability and Public Outreach. May 2011.

Knowles, Noah. 2009. Potential Inundation Due to Rising Sea Levels in the San Francisco Bay Region. A Paper From: California Climate Change Center (CEC-500-2009-023-F), March 2009.

NOAA (2011). Tidal Datums. Tides and Currents Website.

NOAA, Coastal Services Center (2010). Mapping Inundation Uncertainty. Charleston, South Carolina.

NOAA, Coastal Services Center (2009). Coastal Inundation Mapping Guidebook. Charleston, South Carolina.

Updated: 03/27/2014
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