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A probabilistic framework for evaluating sea-level rise impacts

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E. Robert Thieler
U.S. Geological Survey Coastal and Marine Geology Program

Assessing the vulnerability of the coastal zone to sea-level rise (SLR) requires integrating a variety of physical, biological, and social factors.  These include landscape and habitat changes, as well as the ability of society and its institutions to adapt.  For example, the range of physical and biological responses associated with SLR is poorly understood at some of the critical time and space scales required for decision making.  Although the general nature of the changes that can occur on ocean coasts in response to SLR are widely recognized, predicting what changes may occur in response to a specific rise in sea level at a particular point in time is difficult.  Similarly, the cumulative impacts of physical and biological change on the quantity and quality of coastal habitats are not well understood.  Potential societal responses to SLR are also uncertain.  Limitations in the ability to quantitatively predict outcomes at local, regional, and national scales affect whether, when, and how some decisions will be made.  Thus, coastal managers require an improved scientific basis and tools to anticipate the magnitude and likelihood of future SLR impacts, as well as evaluate the consequences of different actions (or inaction).  Several approaches, such as the use of Bayesian networks, provide an extensible framework to support decision making and evaluate specific management questions about alternatives for adapting to SLR.

Last updated: September 16, 2009

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