Category Archives: GIS

The State(s) of Sea Level Rise Science

Peaks Island, Maine

Peaks Island, Maine

In early April, I read an issue of a Peaks Island, Maine newspaper. On the front page, a story’s headline caught my eye:  “Sea level rise not caused by climate change, scientists confirm.” At first I assumed it was an April Fool’s joke, but the date was not April 1st. Then I got upset. I read. It seems that the journalist had (mis)interpreted a report on sea levels in Casco Bay that affirmed the sea level has risen for much longer than most people have known about global climate change. In fact, the State of Maine has over 100 years worth of sea level rise data because the City of Portland has tracked sea level in Portland harbor since 1901. That’s valuable data. The University of Southern Maine has conducted a series of studies on sea level rise, sustainability and the economics involved with planning for adaptation. According to the Environmental Finance Center at the Muskie School (USM), “at least 100 coastal New England towns will be impacted by sea level rise and increased storm surge from climate change.” Read about their COAST and Climate Ready Estuary projects here.

The State of Maine published its climate change action plan in 2004. It identified sea level rise adaptation planning as a necessity. In particular, the Maine Geological Survey conducted several pilot projects that assessed coastal wetland migration. The state’s coastal zoning laws and management practices changed several years ago to reflect sea level rise. Read the 2010 report, “People and Nature: Adapting to a Changing Climate, Charting Maine’s Course.” A great list of collaborators contributed to the development of “People and Nature,” including Natural Resources Council of Maine, several state agencies, several cities and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. It’s hard to find on the state’s website because the State Planning Office’s website was moved and merged with those of other departments.

Meanwhile, adaptation planning has moved to the forefront of climate change science in recent years. Sea level rise scientists at NASA, USGS and other agencies engaged in an online chat session about the state of the science for sea level rise and adaptation planning in early April 2013. (You can listen to the discussion after-the-fact.) What I found interesting is that salt marsh ecology and wetlands play such a vital role in our understanding of sea level rise and its implications for coastal systems. Over the past 6 years, I’ve done some research on sea level rise and learned of sea level rise tools and adaptation planning efforts underway all over the country. A hotspot for sea level rise research is the East coast of the United States, where sea level rise is occurring at a faster rate between Cape Cod and the coast of North Carolina—faster than anywhere else in the world.

Leah Stetson photo

Leah Stetson photo

Several other states have begun to plan for sea level rise. Click on the links below to learn more about what states are doing about sea level rise and adapting natural resource management strategies for climate change. In most cases, it’s a collaborative effort.

MA: Mass Fish & Game Adaptation Planning       MA sea level rise planning maps
MA: Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Committee
NY: New York Sea Level Rise Planning        NY Sea Level Rise Task Force Report 2010
CT: Connecticut Climate Change Adaptation Reports
RI: Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council Sea Level Rise Planning
NJ: New Jersey Coastal Management Program Sea Level Rise Planning
NJ: Sea Level Rise in New Jersey, New Jersey Geological Survey Report, 1998
NJ, DE, PA, NY: Delaware River Basin Commission Climate Change Hydrology Report, 2013
DE: Delaware Sea Level Rise Planning & Adaptation
MD: Living Shorelines Program (Chesapeake Bay Trust)
MD: A Sea Level Response Strategy for Maryland (2000)
VA: Planning for Sea Level Rise, Virginia Institute for Marine Science
VA Sea Level Rise Maps
VA: Sea Level Rise Planning at Local Government Level in Virginia
VA: Government Plan for Development of Land Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise
GA: University of Georgia, Sea Grant – Sea Level Rise Planning & Research
FL: Florida’s Resilient Coasts: State Policy Framework for Adaptation (PDF)
FL: Multidisciplinary Review of Current Sea Level Rise Research in Florida  (University of Florida)
MS & AL: Mississippi and Alabama Sea Grant Consortium – Resilience in Coastal Communities
Gulf of Mexico States: Climate Community of Practice: Sea Level Rise Planning
LA: Coastal Protection & Restoration – Recommendations for Sea Level Rise Planning (Includes Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan)
CA: California’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Water Resources (2012)
CA: State Resources on Sea Level Rise and Adaptation Planning
CA: Adapting to Sea Level Rise Report (2012)
CA, OR, WA: Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon and Washington (2012)
OR: A Strategy for Adapting to Impacts of Climate Change on the Oregon Coast (2009)
OR: LiDAR Sea Level Rise Research (NOAA Digital Services)
WA: Addressing Sea Level Rise in Shoreline Master Programs (Guidance) (2007)
WA: Sea Level Rise Assessment: Impacts of Climate Change on the Coast (2007)
AK: Alaska’s Melting Permafrost and Melting Sea Ice (national research)
AK: Climate change impacts in Alaska (EPA)
NC: North Carolina Coastal Federation – Sea Level Rise

A note about North Carolina: Several state agencies, including the Departments of Environment & Natural Resources, Transportation and Commerce, all identified threats and risks from sea level rise in 2010. At the time, the state’s Governor signed a letter confirming this. Two years later, North Carolina’s State Senate passed a law that banned sea level rise adaptation planning based on the current science. The House of Representatives rejected the bill, but a compromised version of the bill called for a new study on sea level rise for North Carolina and a ban on exponential sea level rise predictions in modeling. Read this Scientific American article on NC and sea level rise, and the 2012 USGS study that found increasing sea level rise impacts on the coast between Cape Cod and the Carolinas. See “More unwanted national attention for North Carolina on sea level rise” (2013).

If you’re interested in a good summary of sea level rise policy in states, see this 2012 legislative report by Kristin Miller, et. al. (Connecticut General Assembly). It includes an analysis of sea level rise related policy in ten states (Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia.)

Update: Check out Nickolay Lamm’s Sea Level Rise Images Depict What U.S. Cities Could Look Like In Future (PHOTOS) – click here. 

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Watershed Modeling & Wetland Mapping

Strange WetlandsI recently attended a luncheon meeting on planning for the Sebago Lake watershed, facilitated by University of Maine. Two goals were to discuss types of watershed modeling and mapping that had been done in the past—in that watershed and elsewhere in Maine—and what was important to watershed managers in the future. The group consisted of wetland scientists, code enforcement officers, town planners, representatives from conservation commissions and waterways associations.

Many of us gave examples of modeling or mapping watersheds. For example, I talked about my experience mapping water features, such as streams and wetlands, and analyzing development patterns in the Northeast Creek watershed on Mount Desert Island, as part of a larger USGS-led aquifer study. At that time, I was working at a land trust and volunteering for the Bar Harbor Conservation Commission.  During the project, I learned about hydrology, groundwater recharge in a granite aquifer and the importance of understanding the limits of an aquifer when planning for development, ie. subdivisions. When a friend’s septic tank erupted, I saw (and smelled) the repercussions of exceeding those limits. It’s not polite dinner conversation.

Good thing we were only having lunch. When the subject turned to watershed modeling, a number of people, including myself, raised issues about data—because a model is only as good as the data put into it. Further, we discussed the merits of a model in the context of a constantly changing climate. Most noted the weather of 2012 and that a model based on water levels this year might be outdated by next year, and so forth. A recent report by Environment Maine on the link between extreme weather events and climate change can be found here.

When asked what important factors should be included in a watershed model, the “hot button” topics included climate change, invasive species, water quality, wetlands, conservation priorities and water quantity. For more information about University of Maine’s watershed modeling project, click here. ASWM has posted links to a number of wetland and watershed tools and resources under its Watershed heading on the main website. For example, there’s a wetlands and watershed protection tool kit, link to a “Wetlands-at-risk Protection” tool, as well as the Natural Floodplain Function Alliance.  Local governments and watershed managers may be interested in ASWM’s guide, Establishing Local Government Wetlands and Watershed Management Programs by Jon Kusler, Esq. Ph.D.  See the Healthy Waters Coalition’s links to resources about watersheds.

In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Virginia Tech recently launched a new website, Wetlands One-Stop, with information about wetlands and wetland mapping. Virginia Tech’s Conservation Management Institute (CMI) designed “Wetlands One-Stop” to provide online access to geospatial data on wetlands and soils produced by federal and state agencies. For more information, click here. For additional information on wetland mapping, visit ASWM’s wetland mapping page.

Scavenger Hunts and Geo-Adventures


As a kid, I loved scavenger hunts. I was so gung-ho about them, I wrote riddles on scraps of paper, hid them throughout the woods in the backyard, then waited a few days to give myself time to forget the hiding places, and then went out and pretended to be on a treasure hunt. Nowadays, families have updated the traditional scavenger hunt: the geocache adventure. Families and friends can go out with hand-held GPS units and discover hidden treasures at the correct coordinates. It’s the perfect blend of mystery and technology! In Delaware, this weekend, families and friends can go out on geocaching adventures in a wetland to celebrate American Wetlands Month.

On Saturday, families are invited to take part in a Geocache Adventure put on by DNREC’s Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve. What’s a geocache adventure? Good question. “It’s a technologically advanced scavenger hunt,” said education coordinator Jennifer Holmes. Families will use handheld GPS units to find hidden treasures throughout Kent County that are related to Delaware’s wetlands. No experience is necessary.
http://php.delawareonline.com/blog/
allgreentome/2009/05/celebrate-american-wetlands-month-with.html