U.S. Scientists Begin Tracking Local Sea Level Rise in Annual Report Cards

Children play in flooded streets in front of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va. 

Children play in flooded streets in front of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va.  Chesapeake Bay Program/Flickr

Scientists have launched a new initiative to create annual “report cards” on sea level rise at 32 localities along the U.S. coast, from Maine to Alaska. The reports, which will be updated each January, will use tide-gauge data to track yearly rise at each site, provide revised region-specific projections through 2050, and explain the processes affecting local sea-level change.  

To date, most sea level rise reports have focused on long-term or global changes. But such data isn’t useful to local policymakers, businesses, or coastal residents making immediate decisions on things like where to build roads or homes, or where to improve resiliency. 

Most records also haven’t accounted for local or yearly variations in the rates of sea level rise. Seas have been rising faster near Norfolk, Virginia, for example, than elsewhere along the U.S. East Coast due to land subsidence and changes to the Gulf Stream, and this rate is accelerating every year. Using non-linear, or accelerating, sea level rise in climate models estimates that seas at Norfolk could be as much as 19.3 inches higher by 2050.

The project, led by researchers at William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, published its first set of local sea level rise report cards this week. It includes data from communities along the U.S. East, Gulf, and West coasts, including Sitka, Alaska; San Diego; Grand Isle, Louisiana; Key West; Baltimore; and Boston. 

See below for examples of the initiative’s sea level rise report cards:

Correction, March 14: An earlier version of this story indicated that NOAA climate projections are not region-specific. NOAA does, however, publish region-specific projections. The story has been updated to correct the error.