USGS - science for a changing world

Pacific Coastal & Marine Science Center

Climate Change Impacts to the U.S. Pacific and Arctic Coasts


Climate change (CC) and sea-level rise (SLR) are already impacting communities along much of the US coastline. For example, along Arctic coastlines, accelerated shoreline erosion and habitat loss are resulting from thawing permafrost and protracted sea-ice are causing greater susceptibility to storm surge and wave energy. Government agencies and land-use planners are considering plans to relocate Native Alaskan villages and critical airstrips further inland away from eroding coasts. Elevated SLR rates (up to 1 cm/year) are already impacting coastal infrastructure, freshwater resources, and terrestrial and marine ecosystems in US and US Trust Territories.

Coastal inundation from storms and predicted SLR threaten continued human habitation on many US atolls in the Pacific, likely making the residents of these low-lying islands the US's first CC refugees. In California alone, roughly half a million people and over $100 billion worth of coastal property are at risk over the next century.

Along highly developed coastal corridors such as San Francisco Bay and Puget Sound, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on coastal infrastructure renovation and ecosystem restoration, yet resource managers remain uncertain whether outcomes of these efforts will be resilient to projected SLR.

The impacts of CC and SLR around the Pacific and Arctic are highly variable and coastal communities and Federal, State, and local managers need to understand how the coast will respond both locally and regionally to forecasted changes. Thus far, however, the vast majority of national and international coastal climate change impact assessments and model development has been focused, on low-relief, relatively low-energy, passive margin settings.

Coastal managers need better scientific information and tools to plan for impending threats to their coasts from saltwater flooding and inundation, shoreline erosion, and habitat loss. Simple passive "bathtub" models of SLR that flood the existing coastal topography are far too common and cannot adequately account for expected dynamic coastal response due to regional variability in forcings (e.g., wind and circulation patterns, wave energy and run-up, vertical land movement), sedimentation, and coastal geology. Even traditional dynamic response models like the "Bruun Rule" are insufficient to describe the complex settings found on Pacific and Arctic coastlines.

Photograph of eroding cliff.Start/End Dates

10/1/2012 - 9/30/2017


Pacific and Arctic Coastlines



The primary goal of this project is to develop a rigorous, systematic research project to address the physical impacts of CC and SLR to the varied geomorphic settings along Pacific and Arctic coasts. With this over-arching aim in mind, we have the following objectives:

Thumbnail of a modeled inlet.Approach

The goal of this project is to better understand and predict the coastal impacts from SLR and CC specific to the Pacific and Arctic regions by developing and implementing a fully integrated science program. This is will be accomplished internally through the redirection of existing personnel and resources, collaboration with other CMGP colleagues in the Woods Hole and St. Petersburg Science Centers who have expertise in this field, expanded interaction with academia (e.g., University of Hawaii, Oregon State University, University of Alaska, University of California, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, etc.) and agency colleagues and partners (e.g., US National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of Defense, NOAA, etc.). FY13 will be a scoping year with a series of workshops, site visits, and meetings to better define the research goals and scope of this project, as well as develop new partnerships that can aid the development of this project.

The tasks are primarily defined by geomorphic setting. Other common forcing factors that will be addressed in each task (importance may vary by geomorphic setting) are:

  1. Dynamic forcing of total water levels (wave run-up, discharge in estuaries, etc.)
  2. Shoreline change
  3. Sediment supply (delivery and production)
  4. Vertical land motions (relative SLR)

The following resulting impacts will also be addressed in each task (importance may vary by geomorphic setting and management need):

  1. Groundwater
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Habitats

Lastly, particular emphasis will be placed on product development and task integration to ensure the cohesiveness of the project and highlight the common goals of each task and accomplishments of the project as a whole. Therefore, products will include:

  1. New, integrated by design, predictable
  2. Define fully integrated practices/methods common to all settings
  3. Top-tier peer-reviewed papers, USGS reports, maps, indexes, etc.

Tasks and SubTasks


Climate Change Impacts Tool, "Our Coast Our Future (OCOF)":

Coastal Storm Modeling System (CoSMoS):

Screen capture thumbnails of the Our Coast Our Future web site.Cooperators


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Page Contact Information: Laura Zink Torresan
Page Last Modified: 1 April 2014 (lzt)