Stories From The Field

Visualizing Locally Relevant Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the Island of Saipan

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Issue

As a small, isolated Pacific island, Saipan is expected to be particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change and variability, especially rising sea levels. In order to assess Saipan’s vulnerability to changes in sea level, coastal planners and hazard mitigation managers sought a means of both analyzing and communicating impacts of coastal flooding scenarios. NOAA’s Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer has incorporated coverage of Saipan. However, participants in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ (CNMI) Climate Change Working Group have requested an additional product—inundation maps that are specific to local sea level rise and storm scenarios and relevant to particular stakeholders.

Process

The CNMI Division of Coastal Resources Management adapted components of the Sea Level Rise Viewer to support Saipan’s assessment of sea level rise vulnerability. An Office for Coastal Management team acquired a digital elevation model of the island and, using their inundation mapping methodology, created custom inundation layers for the island. The team also mapped nine scenarios corresponding to local sea level projections and typhoon water levels previously modeled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The layers were used in combination with local land use and cadastral information, as well as NOAA Coastal Change and Analysis Program (C-CAP) data, to assess future flooding impacts in Saipan’s villages and coastal habitats.

Impact

Saipan’s coastal flooding maps and associated analyses are being integrated into local and regional planning efforts. These products are also being used to help communicate potential impacts of climate change to community residents and stakeholders throughout the Northern Mariana Islands. The inundation scenarios were incorporated into Saipan’s comprehensive Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, and the associated data are being used to profile climate change hazards in the CNMI’s update to its Standard State Mitigation Plan. The products from this project have had unanticipated impacts in the educational arena as well. The CNMI Public School System and Northern Marianas College want to feature sea level rise “layers” in climate change education efforts. The data also are used in new GIS course curricula at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

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