Coastal flooding in the Northeastern United States due to climate change

  • Paul KirshenEmail author
  • Chris Watson
  • Ellen Douglas
  • Allen Gontz
  • Jawon Lee
  • Yong Tian
Original Article


With dense population and development along its coastline, the northeastern United States is, at present, highly vulnerable to coastal flooding. At five sea level stations in the United States, from Massachusetts to New Jersey, sea level rise (SLR) trends and tidal effects were removed from the hourly sea level time series and then frequency analysis was performed on the positive remaining anomalies that represent storm surge heights. Then using eustatic SLR estimates for lower and higher greenhouse gas emissions scenarios and assumed trends in local sea level rise, new recurrence intervals were determined for future storm surges. Under the higher emissions scenario, by 2050, the elevation of the 2005 100-year event may be equaled or exceeded at least every 30 years at all sites. In more exposed US cities such as Boston, Massachusetts and Atlantic City, New Jersey, this could occur at the considerably higher frequency of every 8 years or less. Under the lower emissions scenario, by 2050, the elevation of the 2005 100-year event may be equaled or exceeded at least every 70 years at all sites. In Boston and Atlantic City, this could occur every 30 years or less.


Climate change Sea level rise Storm surge Coastal flooding Recurrence of severe coastal flooding events United States Greenhouse gas emissions Massachusetts Connecticut New York New Jersey 



The authors appreciate the support of the other participants in the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA) sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists. We are particularly grateful to Katharine Hayhoe for providing the SLR scenarios and the NECIA Synthesis Team and the article reviewers for their comments. Richard Vogel provided useful statistical insights. We are also grateful to Elisabeth Militz and Rita Koros who acquired the sea level data. Cameron Wake and Susi Moser provided leadership in assembling this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Kirshen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Chris Watson
    • 2
  • Ellen Douglas
    • 2
  • Allen Gontz
    • 2
  • Jawon Lee
    • 2
  • Yong Tian
    • 2
  1. 1.Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and Water: Systems, Science, and Society Research and Graduate Education ProgramTufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  2. 2.Environmental, Earth and Ocean Sciences DepartmentUniversity of MassachusettsBostonUSA

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