Rethinking adaptation to sea level rise: why rates of change matter

Rethinking adaptation to sea level rise: why rates of change matter

By Caroline Fouvet

Global sea levels have risen by an average of 3.2 mm a year over the past 20 years. Coastal infrastructure such as homes, resorts and roads are under direct threat; as are natural assets such as shallow reefs and beaches. The glacial ice melt that contributes to the sea-level rise phenomenon is likely to continue, however it remains difficult to estimate precise, on-shore repercussions. Current adaptation strategies predominantly focus on total amounts of sea-level rise, however new research suggests that the rate of change may also be an important parameter.

In a 2016 study, the Carnegie Institution for Science modelled how adaptation to ongoing rates of sea-level change enabled planners to determine the optimum distance from the shoreline for future construction.

Building along desirable coastlines is profitable for investors, however buildings in such areas are also exposed to a greater risk of loss and damage. The study suggests that planners should consider both physical and economic factors in their decision making processes. Specifically, the researchers recommend that the rates of change in sea levels (and other environmental factors) and the durability of the built infrastructure should be weighed against near-term profit and long-term costs.

Integrated approaches to resilience building for infrastructure investments are increasingly seen as vital to protect investor capital, and the built environment. The European Commission, for instance, is using an approach developed by Acclimatise and COWI A/S, to integrate climate resilience into the standard project lifecycle appraisal commonly practiced by developers.

The model used for the Carnegie study could have wide reaching implications for important economic sectors. The energy industry, town planning, and asset management are all cited as potential sectors that could benefit.

To learn more, read the study by clicking here

Cover photo by US National Park Service (Public Domain)

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