A discussion of the potential impacts of climate change on the shorelines of the Northeastern USA

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Abstract

An increase in the rate of sea-level rise and potential changes in storminess represent important components of global climate change that will likely affect the extensive coasts of the Northeastern USA. Raising sea level not only increases the likelihood of coastal flooding, but changes the template for waves and tides to sculpt the coast, which can lead to land loss orders of magnitude greater than that from direct inundation alone. There is little question that sea-level rise, and in particular an increased rate of rise, will result in permanent losses of coastal land. However, quantitative predictions of these future coastal change remains difficult due in part to the complexity of coastal systems and the influence of infrequent storm events, and is further confounded by coastal science’s insufficient understanding of the behavior of coastal systems over decadal timescales. Recently, dramatic improvements in technology have greatly improved our capabilities to investigate and characterize processes and sedimentary deposits in the coastal zone, allowing us, for the first time, to address some of the over-arching problems involved in shoreline change. Despite advances in many areas of coastal geology, our fundamental understanding of shoreline change has been limited by a lack of a broad and integrated scientific focus, a lack of resources, and a lack of willingness on the part of policymakers who make crucial decisions about human activity along the coast to support basic research in this area. Although quantitative predictions remain constrained, there remains little doubt that the predicted climates changes will have profound effects upon the Northeastern coast.