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ORNL researchers identify coastlines at risk to sea level rise

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., March 14, 1995 — Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Goddard Institute for Space Studies have developed a method to identify United States coastlines that would be at risk if predicted sea level rises occur.

The risk-assessment tool is detailed in a paper titled "Identification of Coastlines at Risk to Sea-Level-Rise Using the Coastal Hazards Database," written by Rich Daniels and Tammy Beaty of ORNL in collaboration with Vivien Gornitz of Columbia University's Center for Climate Systems Research. Daniels will present the paper March 17 during the 91st annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Chicago.

Increases in sea levels and air temperature caused by long-term climate warming can profoundly affect the intensity and frequency of storms and increase coastal erosion rates. Some scientists predict that sea levels will rise by four to nine centimeters by 2030 as a result of the increase in global temperatures. This increase would cause flooding in low-lying areas and increased coastal erosion rates in others.

"To plan for and possibly reduce the environmental and economic cost of these impacts requires the ability to identify areas at risk before the seas actually rise," Daniels said. The Coastal Hazards Database, developed from 1987-1992 at ORNL, provides that risk- assessment tool.

The database contains seven data sets (relative sea-level trends, wave heights, elevations, local subsidence rates, erosion or accretion rates, coastal geomorphology and geology) that were entered into a geographic information system. The database contains information for two- to four-kilometer segments of the coast.

By plugging data into the geographic information system, the Coastal Hazards Database classifies regions according to a Coastal Vulnerability Index (CVI). For example, each segment, or grid cell, on Atlantic and Gulf coasts has a corresponding CVI value, with higher numbers indicating regions potentially at risk. CVI values on the Gulf Coast of the U.S. range from very low (less than 2) to high risk (greater than 4.24). Areas at high risk on the Gulf Coast include the barrier islands along the Texas and Louisiana coasts, and portions of the Louisiana mainland.

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram national research and development facilities, is managed by Martin Marietta Energy Systems, which also manages the Oak Ridge K-25 Site and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant. This research was funded by DOE's Office of Environmental Analysis.

For more information on the database, contact the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Environmental Sciences Division, ORNL, P.O. Box 2008, Mail Stop 6335, OAK RIDGE, Tenn., 37831-6335.