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Expert Panel Discusses Potential Impacts of Future Sea-Level Rise on U.S. Mid-Atlantic Coast

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Art Trembanis, Ben Gutierrez, Jay Tanski, Paul Gayes, Randy McBride, Mark Byrnes, and Stewart Farrell
Above: Left to right: Art Trembanis, Ben Gutierrez, Jay Tanski, Paul Gayes, Randy McBride, Mark Byrnes, and Stewart Farrell. Photograph by Eric Anderson. [larger version]

Tony Rodriguez, Jesse McNinch, Rob Thieler, Don Cahoon, Jeff Williams, and Carl Hobbs
Above: Left to right: Tony Rodriguez, Jesse McNinch, Rob Thieler, Don Cahoon (partially covered), Jeff Williams, and Carl Hobbs. Photograph by Eric Anderson. [larger version]

Based on compelling observations, scientists around the world agree that the climate is changing because of human-induced warming. The predicted consequences are highly variable, but two that will greatly affect all coastal regions are sea-level rise and the potential for more frequent and energetic storms. To address the first of these topics, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists S. Jeffress Williams, Rob Thieler, and Ben Gutierrez convened a panel of coastal scientists to discuss the potential changes that could occur to the ocean shores of the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast as a result of sea-level rise over the next century. The 2-day workshop was held April 12-13 in Beltsville, Maryland, at the Beltsville Laboratory of the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Meeting attendees discussed the important geologic, physical, and anthropogenic factors that contribute to shoreline changes in this region. In addition, they discussed the challenges involved in using predictive approaches to make long-term shoreline-change assessments.

The results of this meeting are being used to assist USGS participation in preparing the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.1 (SAP 4.1), titled "Coastal Elevations and Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise." The USGS team, consisting of Williams, Thieler, and Gutierrez of the USGS Woods Hole Science Center, Donald Cahoon of the USGS Biological Resources Discipline at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and Eric Anderson of the USGS National Mapping Discipline and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Services Center, are collaborating with scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and NOAA to assess potential impacts resulting from sea-level rise that can be expected by the year 2100. The goal of the CCSP product is to identify lands that could be affected by such sea-level rise. The prospectus for this report can be viewed at URL http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap4-1/SAP4-1prospectus-final.pdf (1.2 MB PDF).

The panel convened for the Beltsville meeting consisted of coastal scientists and managers who have experience in basic research as well as coastal policy and management. Panel participants included Mark Byrnes (Applied Coastal Research and Engineering), Jay Tanski (New York Sea Grant), Stewart Farrell (Richard Stockton College of New Jersey), Art Trembanis (University of Delaware), Randy McBride (George Mason University), Carl Hobbs (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), Jesse McNinch (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), Tony Rodriguez (University of North Carolina), and Paul Gayes (Coastal Carolina University).

The group discussed the nature of a regional assessment of sea-level-rise impacts that could occur over the next century. They agreed that there is a high degree of uncertainty in predicting long-term shoreline changes because of the range of factors involved and the complexity of their interaction. Principal unknowns identified by the panel include regional sediment budgets and anthropogenic influences (for example, erosion-mitigation efforts such as beach nourishment). The panel conducted a qualitative review of potential shoreline changes that could be expected over the next century under different sea-level-rise scenarios. The panel also discussed basic approaches that may work to parameterize future vulnerability to sea-level rise. The meeting results are being integrated into the USGS contribution to SAP 4.1, expected to be released by the CCSP in fall 2007.

Related Web Sites
Prospectus for Coastal Elevations and Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise (1.2 MB PDF)
Climate Change Science Program

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Newly-Discovered Fossil Sponges

Outreach Public Lecture: Alchemy in the Abyss

USGS at Florida's Marine Quest

College Students Introduced to USGS Studies

Meetings Potential Impacts of Future Sea-Level Rise

Onshore-Offshore Geologic Map Workshop

Publications High-Resolution Map Merges Tampa Bay Bathymetry and Topography

70 Years of Coastal Cliff Retreat in California

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