Sea Level Change

Roosevelt Island flooding
Simulated flooding caused by a category three hurricane striking Theodore Roosevelt Island, Washington DC. Click to expand.

Climate change presents numerous challenges for management of U.S. National Park Service (NPS) natural and cultural resources and infrastructure. 92% of U.S. coastal national parks are, or will be, affected by sea level rise. The parks need the best available sea level rise and storm surge projections for park planning. It was announced in September 2013, that the NPS has taken the proactive approach to identifying and addressing these issues by launching a project to examine future sea level and storm surge 118 coastal parks. The aim of this project is to determine how vulnerable to sea level change and flooding from coastal storms these parks are so that we can protect these resources before they are lost forever. Rising sea level coupled with storm events like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy are endangering habitats and cultural resources and will require changes to coastal infrastructure.

Fort Sumter storm surge map
Potential storm surge for Fort Sumter during a Category 5 hurricane (high tide)

Human emissions of greenhouse gases are changing the sea level around the world. Although it is not possible to directly attribute any single hurricane to human climate change, the storm surges caused by hurricanes exacerbate damage from climate change caused sea level rise. This project is working to provide park managers and planners with the best available science that can be incorporated into park documents. Dr. Maria Caffrey and her team from the University of Colorado Boulder are in the process of compiling sea level change data under a number of climate scenarios. These data contain information gathered from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Sea level change scenarios have been combined with NOAA Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) models to estimate which areas could be inundated by sea level changes and storm surges over the next century.

The following either have or will be produced as part of this project:
  • A website to provide access to sea level change and storm surge data resulting from this project. For now, you can check out the gallery of storm surge maps for various national parks.
  • A comprehensive “Sea Level Change in the National Park System: Sea Level and Storm Surge Projections for 118 National Park Service Units” report will be released in late 2016 to help address concerns of the natural and cultural resource managers and facilities planning and policy makers. Check out the project frequently asked questions [PDF].
  • Interpretive wayside exhibits have been installed in Gulf Islands National Seashore, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, and Fire Island National Seashore. See them below!
Fire Island wayside
Fire Island National Seashore wayside exhibit
Gulf Islands historic wayside
Gulf Islands National Seashore exhibit
Gulf Islands wayside exhibit
Gulf Islands National Seashore exhibit
Jean Lafitte wayside
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park wayside
Jean Lafitte wayside installed
The wayside installed, at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park


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