Stories From The Field

Evaluating Land Loss from Sea Level Rise along the Atlantic Coast

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Issue

During extreme weather events like Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy, where storm surge caused billions of dollars in damage, rising sea level tends to make headlines. But rising sea level can also cause permanent changes in the landscape when it inundates low-lying land. With low elevations and sinking shorelines, the Atlantic coast is particularly vulnerable.

Process

In an effort to communicate climate change indicators, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked with coastal management organizations to identify the amount of land lost to sea level rise along the Atlantic coast. The EPA used land cover change information from Florida to New York provided by NOAA’s Coastal change Analysis Program (C-CAP). The C-CAP team provided technical assistance for the project, including data analysis, to determine the amount and types of land lost to sea level rise from 1996 to 2011. This information was used as part of EPA’s climate change indicators in the United States report.

Impact

EPA’s analyses revealed that from 1996 to 2011, roughly 20 square miles of dry land and wetland were converted to open water along the Atlantic coast. Analysts also found more land was lost in the Southeast than in the Mid-Atlantic, and a greater loss occurred to dry land than nontidal wetland. This information was provided to coastal communities and practitioners as part of EPA’s third edition of Climate Change Indicators in the United States, a report that describes the significance of long-term trends and their possible consequences for people, the environment, and society. The report presents 30 indicators to help readers understand these observed trends.

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Graph showing the net amount of land converted to open water along the Atlantic coast during three time periods: 1996–2001, 1996–2006, and 1996–2011. The results are divided into two regions: the Southeast and the Mid-Atlantic. Negative numbers show where land loss is outpaced by the accumulation of new land.

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