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The influence of sea level rise on the regional interdependence of coastal infrastructure

May 1, 2018

Sea level rise (SLR) is placing both immediate and long‐term pressures on coastal communities to take protective actions. Projects in the United States, and in many locations throughout the world, generally involve local jurisdictions raising the elevation of shoreline protection elements, with limited or no analysis of the feedback between shoreline management decisions and the impacts to water levels regionally. Our study examines the impact of local shoreline development on regional flood risk and considers SLR scenarios up to 1.5 m using a large‐scale numerical model, as an example, for San Francisco Bay. Here we show that measures to prevent flooding along an embayment shoreline in one location or subregion may increase inundation elsewhere in the system. The network of interactions occurs not only within subbasins of the Bay but also across the greater geographic extent from one end of the Bay to the other, and local jurisdiction may have either reciprocal relationships with or asymmetric impacts on one other. Importantly, the nature of the interaction network is seen to evolve with SLR: interactions are purely subregional at current sea level but with higher sea level (e.g., 1 m of SLR), not only do the subregional interdependencies strengthen but also regional interdependences emerge.