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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Joint projections of US East Coast sea level and storm surge

Authors:

Christopher Little

Radley Horton

Robert Kopp

Michael Oppenheimer

Gabriel Vecchi

Gabriele Villarini

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
2015
Secondary Title:
Nature Climate Change
ISSN:
1758-678X
DOI:
10.1038/nclimate2801
Pages:
1114-1120
Volume:
5
Year:
2015
Date:
Sep-09-2016
URL:
http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/nclimate2801

Abstract

Future coastal flood risk will be strongly influenced by sea-level rise (SLR) and changes in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones. These two factors are generally considered independently. Here, we assess twenty-first century changes in the coastal hazard for the US East Coast using a flood index (FI) that accounts for changes in flood duration and magnitude driven by SLR and changes in power dissipation index (PDI, an integrated measure of tropical cyclone intensity, frequency and duration). Sea-level rise and PDI are derived from representative concentration pathway (RCP) simulations of 15 atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs). By 2080–2099, projected changes in the FI relative to 1986–2005 are substantial and positively skewed: a 10th–90th percentile range 4–75 times higher for RCP 2.6 and 35–350 times higher for RCP 8.5. High-end FI projections are driven by three AOGCMs that project the largest increases in SLR, PDI and upper ocean temperatures. Changes in PDI are particularly influential if their intra-model correlation with SLR is included, increasing the RCP 8.5 90th percentile FI by a further 25%. Sea-level rise from other, possibly correlated, climate processes (for example, ice sheet and glacier mass changes) will further increase coastal flood risk and should be accounted for in comprehensive assessments.