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Most coastal communities are preparing for sea level rise, study shows

Water flows up onto a beach.
Ant Rozetsky
According to a recent study, a majority of coastal communities consider sea level rise an important issue and are implementing formal policies to address it.

A recent study by Utah State University researchers, and collaborators around the globe, found that a majority of coastal communities consider sea level rise an important issue and are implementing formal policies to address it.

The paper, published in Nature Communications Earth and Environment last month, surveyed individuals responsible for coastal planning and climate change adaptation in 49 countries. Daniella Hirschfeld, Assistant Professor of Environmental Planning in USU’s Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning department, is lead author on the paper. She said that 98% of respondents are actively working to address the risks posed by sea level rise.

“Essentially, universally, our respondents are interested in or doing specific work to address sea level rise. So their starting point is not, 'Are the seas rising?' or 'Is climate change happening?' Their starting point is, 'We already understand this is happening and that this is a real risk,'” Hirschfeld said.

Hirschfeld said that 72% of those polled work in places that have adopted formal policies or plans to address sea level rise risks. This represents 745 million people around the world living in places working to address the risk of sea level rise.

“So it's not, 'It flooded yesterday, and therefore, we'll need to build a seawall,' it's, 'We know that the science is telling us that the coastal environment is going to change, and we need to have policies and plans in place to address those future threats,'” Hirschfeld said.

While a majority of respondents have adopted policies based on future projections, Hirschfeld said there is a large variability in what projections they are using. Some planners are basing policy off of low sea level rise projections, while others are using numbers towards the higher end. She said these results indicate a need for ongoing work to support much needed adaptation for future risks.

Hirschfeld said the results of the study shows that a significant amount of work is going towards sea level rise preparation, and that there is a tremendous amount of understanding about the threat it poses within people whose job it is to manage the coasts.

Max is a neuroscientist and science reporter. His research revolves around an underexplored protein receptor, called GPR171, and its possible use as a pharmacological target for pain. He reports on opioids, outer space and Great Salt Lake. He loves Utah and its many stories.