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Sea-level rise exponentially increases coastal flood frequency

April 16, 2020

Sea-level rise will radically redefine the coastline of the 21st century. For many coastal regions, projections of global sea-level rise by the year 2100 (e.g., 0.5–2 meters) are comparable in magnitude to today’s extreme but short-lived increases in water level due to storms. Thus, the 21st century will see significant changes to coastal flooding regimes (where present-day, extreme-but-rare events become common), which poses a major risk to the safety and sustainability of coastal communities worldwide. So far, estimates of future coastal flooding frequency focus on endpoint scenarios, such as the increase in flooding by 2050 or 2100. Here, we investigate the continuous shift in coastal flooding regimes by quantifying continuous rates of increase in the occurrence of extreme water-level events due to sea-level rise. We find that the odds of exceeding critical water-level thresholds increases exponentially with sea-level rise, meaning that fixed amounts of sea-level rise of only ~1–10 cm in areas with a narrow range of present-day extreme water levels can double the odds of flooding. Combining these growth rates with established sea-level rise projections, we find that the odds of extreme flooding double approximately every 5 years into the future. Further, we find that the present-day 50-year extreme water level (i.e., 2% annual chance of exceedance, based on historical records) will be exceeded annually before 2050 for most (i.e., 70%) of the coastal regions in the United States. Looking even farther into the future, the present-day 50-year extreme water level will be exceeded almost every day during peak tide (i.e., daily mean higher high water) before the end of the 21st century for 90% of the U.S. coast. Our findings underscore the need for immediate planning and adaptation to mitigate the societal impacts of future flooding.

Publication Year 2020
Title Sea-level rise exponentially increases coastal flood frequency
DOI 10.1038/s41598-020-62188-4
Authors Mohsen Taherkhani, Sean Vitousek, Patrick L. Barnard, L Neil Frazer, Tiffany Anderson, Charles Fletcher
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Scientific Reports
Index ID 70209476
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center