New Sea-Level Rise Handbook Highlights Science and Models for Non-Scientists

Coastal managers and planners now have access to a new U.S. Geological Survey handbook that, for the first time, comprehensively describes the various models used to study and predict sea-level rise and its potential impacts on coasts.

Designed for the benefit of land managers, coastal planners, and policy makers in the United States and around the world, the handbook explains many of the contributing factors that account for sea-level change. It also highlights the different data, techniques, and models used by scientists and engineers to document historical trends of sea level and to forecast future rates and the impact to coastal systems and communities.

“Our goal was to introduce the non-expert to the broad spectrum of models and applications that have been used to predict environmental change for sea-level rise assessments,” said Thomas Doyle, Deputy Director of the National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the lead author of the guide. “We provide a simple explanation of the complex science and simulation models from published sources to help inform land management and adaptation decisions for areas under risk of rising sea levels.”

The scope and content of the handbook was developed from feedback received at dozens of training sessions held with coastal managers and planners of federal, state, and private agencies across the northern Gulf of Mexico. The sessions aimed to determine what tools and resources were currently in use and to explain the broad spectrum of data and models used in sea-level rise assessments from multiple disciplines, including geology, hydrology and ecology. Criteria were established to distinguish various characteristics of each model, including the source, scale and quality of information input and geographic databases, as well as the ease or difficulty of storing, displaying, or interpreting the model output.

“A handbook of this nature was identified as a high priority need by resource managers,” said Virginia Burkett, USGS Chief Scientist for Climate and Land Use Change. “[The handbook] will serve as a practical guide to the tools and predictive models that they can use to assess sea-level change impacts on coastal landscapes.”

The handbook can be found at online, while a presentation on the handbook can be found online.

The work was supported by the Department of Interior Southeast Climate Science Center, which is managed by the U.S. Geological Survey. The center is one of eight that provides scientific information to help natural resource managers respond effectively to climate change.