Coastal Climate Adaptation

Overdevelopment on Gulf Coast Beach. Photo Courtesy of J. Henry Fair.

Overdevelopment on Gulf Coast Beach. Photo Courtesy of J. Henry Fair.

One of the primary challenges our coastal communities and ecosystems will face in the coming decades is adapting to the rising sea levels, increased frequency and severity of extreme temperature and storm events, changes in regional precipitation patterns, and other environmental changes that scientists predict will result from global climate change. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that the oceans of the world would rise an average of seven to twenty-three inches between 1990 and 2100. More recently, scientists have suggested even more rise, up to 75 inches. Regardless of the actual numbers, it is clear that climate change will create significant disruptions in coastal areas. The rate of relative sea level rise varies locally and in places with high rates of subsidence (sinking), like coastal Louisiana, the effect of rising seas is further amplified.

Intact Marshes Can Help Buffer Against Sea Level Rise and Storm Surges. Photo SouthWings.

Coastal communities can take a number of approaches in adapting to rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and the flooding associated with severe storms. These include, among others, moving structures and communities further inland (“coastal retreat”); pumping sand onto eroding beaches to protect coastal properties (“beach renourishment”); construction of hard structures—jetties, groins, seawalls, and breakwaters, for instance—that change wave energy and sand transport; and restoration of wetland habitats that reduce storm surge. When communities are weighing the pros and cons of their options, SouthWings flights can show decision-makers, journalists, and community leaders the relative environmental impacts of each of these approaches to ensure that planning considers long-term environmental impacts. SouthWings flights can also document changes in barrier islands and coastal wetlands to help with research and policy making decisions.

Storm Surge Protection Project, Louisiana. Photo SouthWings.

Storm Surge Protection Project, Louisiana. Photo SouthWings.