US coastal areas 'at risk'

Posted by Kate Taylor

Climate change is threatening the health and safety of US coastal communities, according to a report.

'Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities: a technical input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment' stresses the need for more coordination and planning.

"Sandy showed us that coastal states and communities need effective strategies, tools and resources to conserve, protect, and restore coastal habitats and economies at risk from current environmental stresses and a changing climate," says co-lead author Margaret A Davidson of the NOAA.

"Easing the existing pressures on coastal environments to improve their resiliency is an essential method of coping with the adverse effects of climate change."

The report concludes that all US coasts are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as sea-level rise, erosion, storms and flooding. Particularly at risk are the more populated low-lying parts along the Gulf of Mexico, Mid-Atlantic, northern Alaska, Hawaii and island territories.

"An increase in the intensity of extreme weather events such as storms like Sandy and Katrina, coupled with sea-level rise and the effects of increased human development along the coasts, could affect the sustainability of many existing coastal communities and natural resources," says co-lead author Virginia Burkett of the US Geological Survey.

Storm surge flooding and sea-level rise pose significant threats to services such as energy, sewage treatment, clean water and transportation.

"Although adaptation planning activities in the coastal zone are increasing, they generally occur in an ad-hoc manner and are slow to be implemented," the authors warn.

"An integrated scientific program will reduce uncertainty about the best ways coastal communities can to respond to sea-level rise and other kinds of coastal change. This, in turn, will allow communities to better assess their vulnerability and to identify and implement appropriate adaptation and preparedness options."