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Modeling the Effects of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Resources

Maps of Ocean County, New Jersey developed by Abt Global' staff.
Maps of Ocean County, New Jersey developed by Abt Global’s staff. These maps show a comparison between 1995 wetland habitat and modeled habitat by 2195, under a scenario with 0.35 inches of accelerated sea level rise and no shoreline protection. 

In 2009, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program – now the U.S. Global Change Research Program – released a series of 21 topical reports that synthesized research on key climate science issues. These reports were intended to inform discussions and decisions about how to address climate change.

As part of this effort, Abt Global’s staff assisted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in developing a synthesis report on the sensitivity of coastal resources in the U.S. to sea level rise, Synthesis Assessment Report 4-1, Coastal Sensitivity to Sea Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region. Abt staff provided support to the EPA across a number of areas covered in the report. This support included:

  • Evaluating data for quality control: Abt’s analysts provided Quality Assurance/Quality Control  (QA/QC) of elevation data generated by other subcontractors for the report, comparing the areas of land at various elevations from the DEM against the source data sets and publically-available sources such as the USGS National Elevation Dataset (NED) and Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data where available. Abt documented the QA/QC procedures along with tabular data summaries of the amount of land by elevation, land use/shore protection, and USGS quadrangle, county, and state in appendices to the final report. Abt also generated FGDC-compliant metadata for each of the finalized data sets themselves;
  • Producing state-specific sea level rise studies: Abt’s graphic designers and document production team provided editing and layout support for the individual sea level rise planning studies generated for  New York, New Jersey, Pa., Del., Md., D.C., Va., and North Carolina;
  • Developing and applying a coastal inundation model to estimate ecosystem changes: Abt’s geographic information and climate change specialists developed a spatially-explicit inundation model to estimate ecosystem changes resulting from varying sea level and shoreline armoring scenarios in Ocean County, NJ. Abt then used information from local experts, the scientific literature, and food web modeling of species relative abundances and annual rates of production to evaluate the direct and indirect effects on North American coastal habitats, migratory birds, and estuarine fishes under the different scenarios. Abt found that conventional armoring responses could result in substantial and irreversible losses of coastal habitats and the species dependent on these habitats. The model can be used to help local stakeholders and decision-makers plan responses to sea level rise; 
  • Analyzing environmental impacts for key estuaries along the Atlantic seaboard: Abt’s team generated  mini reports to assess the environmental implications of sea level rise for specific estuaries for the following eight regions: Atlantic Coast of Accomack and Northampton counties in Virginia; Maryland and Delaware coastal bays; New Jersey’s Atlantic Coast back-barrier bays; the south shore of Long Island, New York; Raritan Bay and the Hackensack Meadowlands in New Jersey; the Hudson River and New York City; the north shore of Long Island, New York; and Back Bay/Currituck Sound in Virginia and North Carolina; and
  • Quantifying Uncertainty in Estimates of Flooding Caused by Sea Level Rise: Working with the EPA to estimate the extent of coastal flooding that could occur along the United States’ east coast under various sea level rise scenarios. Our quantification of uncertainty in the estimates included novel considerations of site-specific geomorphologies. We provided a concise mathematical formulation of uncertainty estimates that reflected the novel concepts defined by our client, and included the uncertainty estimates in projections of regional analyses of flooding extent.

Read more about Abt’s assistance to the EPA:

North America