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Sea-Level Change—a Workshop to Define Science Needs and Future USGS Research Directions

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Further Reading:
For additional information, see the following article,
"The Need for Better Scientific Understanding of Sea-Level Change"
A workshop on sea-level change was convened by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at Woods Hole, MA, on September 24 and 25, 2002. The meeting focused on three main topics:

  • the current state of understanding of sea-level change over recent geologic time, with emphasis on the past 20,000 years;
  • the effects of sea-level change on rates of coastal erosion, accretion, and sediment movement; and
  • potential future directions for USGS-supported research on sea-level change.

Twenty-five research scientists from the USGS (Woods Hole, MA; St Petersburg, FL; Menlo Park, CA; Santa Cruz, CA; Lafayette, LA; Patuxent, MD; Reston, VA), the University of Hawaii, the University of Toledo, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Boston University attended. Their talks and lively discussions clarified some important points about sea-level change, which are summarized in the following article, entitled "The Need for Better Scientific Understanding of Sea-Level Change."

Presentations at the meeting encompassed a range of topics, including

  • modeling coastal-wetland responses to storms and sediment inputs,
  • mapping paleoshoreline features on the mid-Atlantic shelf,
  • assessing coastal vulnerability to sea-level change,
  • geologic evidence for higher-than-present sea levels in Hawaii and the equatorial Pacific Ocean,
  • effects of subsidence on the sinking of New Orleans,
  • using geographic information systems (GIS) to visualize Washington State coastal evolution,
  • modeling regional coastal-system response to sea level, and
  • short-term sea-level response to Pacific coast El Nio events.

An afternoon field trip on September 24 gave attendees the opportunity to learn about the glacial origins of Cape Cod; to visit six sites along the coast, including Woods Hole, Chatham/Nauset Beach, Sandy Neck/Barnstable marsh, and Sandwich Beach; and to witness the effects of sea-level change and the complex coastal processes that have formed present-day Cape Cod.

Results of the workshop are being synthesized, and a plan for future sea-level-change research will be forthcoming. The plan will contain justifications and recommendations for enhanced USGS-supported research aimed at better understanding sea-level change and predicting the likely effects on coastal systems. Integral to the plan will be interdisciplinary studies involving teams of scientists from the USGS, universities, and other Federal science agencies, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A principal research topic anticipated to be in the plan is the development of predictive models for coastal change as a function of near-future sea-level change. From this effort, we expect that a natural outcome will be plans for national assessments of sea-level-change effects on coastal systems, expressed as probabilities.

The underpinnings of such predictive models will require integration of various complementary research tasks, such as

  • comprehensive three-dimensional geologic-framework studies of high-resolution coastal-shelf sedimentary records to decipher late Quaternary sea-level history;
  • field studies and a national monitoring program to measure recent and modern sedimentary and biological processes in wetlands and estuaries;
  • development of detailed relative-sea-level histories for the past several thousand years in several critical regions, to place recent and future trends in sea-level behavior and coastal response into a geologic context;
  • quantification of the rates, magnitudes, and relative roles of the processes driving coastal change, as well as large-scale mechanisms (such as postglacial isostatic adjustment), which serve both as sources of uncertainty in past sea-level history and as vital components of modern global sea-level-change determinations; and
  • field studies and modeling of the geologic controls on coastal aquifers and potential for saltwater intrusion.

Related Sound Waves Stories
The Need for Better Scientific Understanding of Sea-Level Change
November 2002
USGS Briefs Massachusetts Coastal Managers on Sea-Level Rise and Other Coastal Hazards
May 2002
Forum on Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Disasters
Dec. 2001 / Jan. 2002

Related Web Sites
Woods Hole Field Center
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Woods Hole, MA

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in this issue: Fieldwork cover story:
Seagrass Restoration in Tampa Bay

Tracking Pintail-Duck Population Decline

Remote Sensing of Coral Reefs at Biscayne National Park

Exploring the Puerto Rico Trench

Research Assateague Island Restoration

Outreach Dedication of New Lake Mead Research Vessel

Meetings Sea-Level Change Workshop

The Need for Better Scientific Understanding of Sea-Level Change

Remote-Sensing at Cape Cod National Seashore

Familiar Faces at Fall Meetings

Giving Interns a View of Science Career Paths

Staff & Center News Visiting Engineer Brings Modeling Expertise

Parsons Succeeds Lee as Acting Chief Scientist for WRCMG Team

Publications November Publications List

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