Coastal areas always have been vulnerable to flooding, but likely will experience increased risk in the future due to anticipated impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise and increased storm and rain intensity.
Population densities in coastal regions have increased almost 40 percent in the United States since the 1970s and are expected to rise 8 percent more by 2020, according to NOAA. Therefore, a higher percentage of people will be at risk to flooding and other coastal hazards in the future.
Available mapping tools
Over the past five years, a few easy-to-use interactive maps showing sea level rise inundation projections and other coastal hazards have become available online. These include Climate Central’s Surging Seas Risk Finder, NOAA’s Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer and the Nature Conservancy Coastal Resilience mapping portal.
How should these maps be used? Visualizing uncertainty
Sea-level rise maps indicating areas potentially prone to future inundation are valuable tools for decision makers. Interactive maps can be used as outreach tools to increase public education and awareness about coastal hazards or to evaluate areas that are vulnerable to coastal hazards on larger geographical scales (global, national or state).
These maps are also very good for providing education on the effects of sea-level rise. However, higher resolution mapping is needed to make specific decisions at the local level, for example, at the scale of siting a building or energy substation. This is partially because the sources of error and specifics about the amount of error in the models and data are often underrepresented when people look at these maps, often due to difficulty visualizing and explaining uncertainty.