NOAA Announces Funding to Model Effects of Sea Level Rise in Northern Gulf of Mexico

Study will identify impacts of rising water and erosion to coastal habitats and communities

August 5, 2010

NOAA has awarded $750,000 for the first year of an anticipated $3 million research investment to develop the information and tools critically needed to plan for sea level rise and other consequences of climate change along more than 300 miles of the northern Gulf of Mexico’s shoreline.

The study team, led by Scott Hagen, Ph.D., of the University of Central Florida, will develop sea level rise computer models to predict the impacts storms and rising water pose to the northern Gulf’s coastline, including shoreline and barrier island erosion. The results of the study will be incorporated into coastal ecosystem planning for restoration efforts and other natural resource management decisions in the region. It may also help oil spill responders better understand oil that may reside in the subsided ecosystems.

“We intend to build upon our individual and collective experiences to develop an integrated modeling approach for assessing the ecological impacts of sea level rise,” said Hagen. “Our modeling effort will be improved by close coordination between NOAA-funded scientists and local coastal resource managers.”

Sea level rise occurs along most of America’s coastline and poses danger to nurseries, feeding grounds and permanent habitat sites for commercially and ecologically important fisheries and wildlife. Coastal wetlands and lowlands, beaches and barrier islands, and ocean islands and atolls are especially at risk to rising seas, as they are vulnerable to being submerged or significantly flooded.
The study area ranges from coastal Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle, encompassing three sites in NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System. These locations are ideally suited to monitor the long-term impacts from sea level rise because of the relatively pristine nature of their ecosystems and the extensive monitoring and research capacity already in place. A national effort is afoot to establish the area as a network of sentinel sites for climate change impacts on coastal habitats.

Key to the successful application of the study results is the open communication between researchers and local authorities. To this effect, partners in the study will also include representatives from the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

“This advanced warning tool is just one example of NOAA’s growing portfolio of climate services so that local authorities can take steps to protect valuable resources and coastal economies in a proactive manner,” says Russell Callender, acting director of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, the office that is providing this competitive funding.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us on Facebook.