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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mapping Climate Change and Sea-level Rise

Today (18 Feb 2010) and tomorrow, I am attending the National Climate Change Forum (http://www.nccf2010.eventplanners.com.au/) in Adelaide. The focus of this two-day forum is on coastal communities: how can they assess the risks from climate change and sea level rise, and how to develop priorities for adaptation strategies.

(Not a lot of Social Media activity here BTW. I seem to be the only one sending out updates on Twitter for now. Follow me or look for the #nccf hashtag)

Most of the delegates represent coastal councils or state governments, and are acutely aware of the issues and pressures from their constituents: "What are the effects (if any), and what are you going to do about it? And by the way: if you screw up, we'll sue you! "

No wonder they have a dire need for guidance and most of all: consistent, reliable and accessible information. The typical question is along the lines of: "which properties or assets will be at risk in my council in 2030".

The simple tool to answer that question is to provide 'inundation maps' for a certain area for that year. These provide a nice 'crisp' area that will be flooded. Inside the boundary 'not good'. Outside the boundary: 'good'

Source: http://www.climatechange.gov.au/en/publications/coastline/~/media/publications/coastline/0-executive-summary.ashx

A complication arises when you think it through: what 'level' of inundation do we depict? The plain 'bathtub' model does not take into account temporal variations (such as king tides) or dynamic events (e.g. storm surges). In fact the main threat does not come from pure sea level rise, but from an increased frequency, as much as the extent, of flood events. Maybe what we need is a visualisation mechanism that's a bit more 'clever'. Something like combining the probability of an event with the different sea level rise scenarios:

Source: http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/coasts/nps/coastalInundation.php

So is this the silver bullet? Of course this requires a lot more data modelling and processing. And does this violate the "keep the message as simple as possible" principle for the people saying: "Just tell me if my property will be affected"?

Would love to hear your views...

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