Rising Sea Levels: Helping Decision-Makers Confront the Inevitable
Sea-level rise (SLR) is not just a future trend; it is occurring now in most coastal regions across the globe. It thus impacts not only long-range planning in coastal environments, but also emergency preparedness. Its inevitability and irreversibility on long time scales, in addition to its spatial non-uniformity, uncertain magnitude and timing, and capacity to drive non-stationarity in coastal flooding on planning and engineering timescales, create unique challenges for coastal risk-management decision processes. This review assesses past United States federal efforts to synthesize evolving SLR science in support of coastal risk management. In particular, it outlines the: (1) evolution in global SLR scenarios to those using a risk-based perspective that also considers low-probability but high-consequence outcomes, (2) regionalization of the global scenarios, and (3) use of probabilistic approaches. It also describes efforts to further contextualize regional scenarios by combining local mean sea-level changes with extreme water level projections. Finally, it offers perspectives on key issues relevant to the future uptake, interpretation, and application of sea-level change scenarios in decision-making. These perspectives have utility for efforts to craft standards and guidance for preparedness and resilience measures to reduce the risk of coastal flooding and other impacts related to SLR.