Climatic Change

, Volume 95, Issue 1–2, pp 121–138 | Cite as

Potential impacts of sea-level rise on the Mid- and Upper-Atlantic Region of the United States



We made projections of relative sea-level rise, horizontal inundation, and the associated impacts on people and infrastructure in the coastal portion of the Mid- and Upper-Atlantic Region (MUAR) of the United States. The output of five global climate models (GCMs) run under two greenhouse gas scenarios was used in combination with tide gauge observations to project sea-level increases ranging from 200 to 900 mm by 2100, depending on location, GCM and scenario. The range mainly reflects equal contributions of spatial variability (due to subsidence) and GCM uncertainty, with a smaller fraction of the range due to scenario uncertainty. We evaluated 30-m Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) using 10-m DEMs and LIDAR data at five locations in the MUAR. We found average RMS differences of 0.3 m with the 10-m DEMs and 1.2 m with the LIDAR data, much lower than the reported mean RMS errors of 7 m for the 30-m DEMs. Using the 30-m DEMs, the GCM- and scenario-means of projected sea-level rise, and local subsidence estimates, we estimated a total inundation of 2,600 km2 for the MUAR by 2100. Inundation area increases to 3,800 km2 at high tide if we incorporate local tidal ranges in the analysis. About 510,000 people and 1,000 km of road lie within this area. Inundation area per length of coastline generally increases to south, where relative sea-level rise is greater and relief is smaller. More economically developed states, such as New York and New Jersey, have the largest number of people and infrastructure exposed to risk of inundation due to sea-level rise.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bureau of the Census (2005) 2005 statistical abstract of the United States. US Bureau of the Census. Washington, DC.
  2. Church JA, White NJ (2006) A 20th century acceleration in global sea-level rise. Geophys Res Lett 33:L01602. doi:10.1029/2005GL024826 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Church JA, Gregory JM, Huybrechts P, Kuhn M, Lambeck K, Nhuan MT, Qin D, Woodworth PL (2001) Chapter 11: changes in sea level. In: Houghton JT et al (eds) Climate change 2001: the scientific basis. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 639–694Google Scholar
  4. Church JA, White NJ, Coleman R, Lambeck K, Mitroviga JX (2004) Estimates of the regional distribution of sea-level rise over the 1950–2000 period. J Climate 17:2609–2625CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Davis GH (1987) Land subsidence and sea level rise on the Atlantic Coastal Plain of the United States. Environ Geol 10(2):67–80Google Scholar
  6. Davis JL, Mitrovica JX (1996) Glacial isostatic adjustment and the anomalous tide gauge record of eastern North America. Nature 379:331–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gordon HB, O’Farrell SP (1997) Transient climate change in the CSIRO coupled model with dynamic sea ice. Mon Weather Rev 125:875–907CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gordon C, Cooper C, Senior CA, Banks HT, Gregory JM, Johns TC, Mitchell JFB, Wood RA (2000) The simulation of SST, sea ice extents and ocean heat transports in a version of the Hadley Centre coupled model without flux adjustments. Clim Dyn 16:147–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gornitz V, Couch S, Hartig EK (2002) Impacts of sea-level rise in the New York City metropolitan area. Glob Planet Change 32:61–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Joughin I (2006) Greenland rumbles louder as glaciers accelerate. Science 311:1719–1720, 24 March 2006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kerr RA (2004) A Bit of icy Antarctica is sliding toward the sea. Science 305:1897, 24 September 2004CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Knutson TR, Delworh TL, Dixon KW, Stouffer RJ (1999) Model assessment of regional surface temperature trends (1949–1997). J Geophys Res 104:30981–30996CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. McInnes KL, Walsh KJE, Hubbert GD, Beer T (2003) Impact of sea-level rise and storm surges on a coastal community. Nat Hazards 30(2):187–207Google Scholar
  14. Mclean RF, Tsyban A, Burkett V, Codignotto JO, Forbes DL, Mimura N, Beamish RJ, Ittekkot V (2001) Chapter 6: coastal zones and marine ecosystems. In: McCarthy JJ et al (eds) Climate change 2001: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 343–379Google Scholar
  15. Meehl GA, Stocker TF, Collins WD, Friedlingstein P, Gaye AT, Gregory JM, Kitoh A, Knutti R, Murphy JM, Noda A, Raper SCB, Watterson IG, Weaver AJ, Zhao ZC (2007) Global climate projections. In: Solomon et al (eds) (2007) Climate Change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USAGoogle Scholar
  16. Najjar RG, Walker HA, Anderson PJ, Barron EJ, Bord R, Gibson J, Kennedy VS, Knight CG, Megonigal P, O’Connor R, Polsky CD, Psuty NP, Richards B, Sorenson LG, Steele E, Swanson RS (2000) The potential impacts of climate change on the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Region. Clim Res 14:219–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Najjar RG, Patterson L, Graham S (2008) Climate simulations of major estuarine watersheds in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Climatic Change (in press)Google Scholar
  18. Nakićenović N, Swart R (2000) Special report on emissions scenarios. In: A special report of working group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 599 ppGoogle Scholar
  19. NPA Data Services, Inc (1998) Regional economic projections series. NPA Data Services, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  20. Roeckner E, Oberhuber JM, Bacher A, Christoph M, Kirchner I (1996) ENSO variability and atmospheric response in a global coupled atmosphere-ocean GCM. Clim Dyn 12:737–754CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Scavia D et al (2002) Climate change impacts on U.S. coastal and marine ecosystems. Estuaries 25:149–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Shorr N, Najjar RG, Amato A, Graham S (2008) Climate change impacts on household heating and cooling in the Northeast US compared to those of purposive behaviors. Climate Research (in press)Google Scholar
  23. Titus JG, Richman C (2001) Maps of lands vulnerable to sea-level rise: modeled elevation along the US Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Clim Res 18:205–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. US Geological Survey (1992) National land cover data set 1992. Distributed at
  25. Washington WM et al (2000) Parallel Climate Model (PCM): control and transient simulations. Clim Dyn 16:755–774CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Wu S-Y, Yarnal B, Fisher A (2002) Vulnerability of coastal communities to sea-level rise, a case study of Cape May County, New Jersey. Clim Res 22(3):255–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Zervas C (2001) Sea level variations of the United States 1854–1999. NOAA Technical Report NOS CO-OPS 36Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeologyUniversity of DaytonDaytonUSA
  2. 2.Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA

Personalised recommendations