USGS - science for a changing world

Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

Coastal Climate Impacts


Collapsed permafrost block of coastal tundra at Drew Point along Alaska's Arctic coast. Photo courtesy of USGS Alaska Science Center.

The impacts of climate change and sea-level rise around the Pacific and Arctic Oceans can vary tremendously. Thus far the vast majority of national and international impact assessments and models of coastal climate change have focused on low-relief coastlines that are not near seismically active zones. Furthermore, the degree to which extreme waves and wind will add further stress to coastal systems has also been largely disregarded. By working to refine this area of research, USGS aims to help coastal managers and inhabitants understand how their coasts will change.

Read more in Overview.

Research A cabin along Alaska's Arctic coast was recently washed into the ocean by erosion of the underlying permafrost bluff. Photo by Benjamin Jones, USGS.

Climate impacts to Arctic coasts

The Arctic region is warming faster than anywhere else in the nation. Understanding the rates and causes of coastal change in Alaska is needed to identify and mitigate hazards that might affect people and animals that call Alaska home.

An aerial view of Wake Island by Hohum, KC-135_Stratotanker_boom.JPG. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Low-lying areas of tropical Pacific islands

Sea level is rising faster than projected in the western Pacific, so understanding how wave-driven coastal flooding will affect inhabited, low-lying islands—most notably, the familiar ring-shaped atolls—as well as the low-elevation areas of high islands in the Pacific Ocean, is critical for decision-makers in protecting infrastructure or relocating resources and people.

Thumbnail of coastline in San Gregorio, California.

Dynamic coastlines along the western U.S.

The west coast of the United States is extremely complex and changeable because of tectonic activity, mountain building, and land subsidence. These active environments pose a major challenge for accurately assessing climate change impacts, since models were historically developed for more passive sandy coasts.

Thumbnail of the Pacific Northwest.

Estuaries and large river deltas in the Pacific Northwest

Essential habitat for wild salmon and other wildlife borders river deltas and estuaries in the Pacific Northwest. These estuaries also support industry, agriculture, and a large human population that’s expected to double by the year 2060, but each could suffer from more severe river floods, higher sea level, and storm surges caused by climate change.

Thumbnail photo of USGS scientist running a seafloor survey.

Climate check in our Santa Cruz backyard

For a beach town like Santa Cruz, preserving beaches by mitigating coastal erosion is vital. Surveys conducted now and regularly in the future will help scientists understand the short- and long-term impacts of climate change, El Niño years, and sea-level rise on a populated and vulnerable coastline.


Coherence Between Coastal and River Flooding along the California Coast
Journal of Coastal Research 34:2

Most atolls will be uninhabitable by the mid-21st century because of sea-level rise exacerbating wave-driven flooding
Science Advances 4:4

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