Climatic Change

, Volume 105, Issue 3–4, pp 635–645 | Cite as

Implications of recent sea level rise science for low-elevation areas in coastal cities of the conterminous U.S.A.

A letter
  • Jeremy L. WeissEmail author
  • Jonathan T. Overpeck
  • Ben Strauss


Recently published work estimates that global sea level rise (SLR) approaching or exceeding 1 m by 2100 is plausible, thus significantly updating projections by the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Furthermore, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the 21st century will not only influence SLR in the next ∼90 years, but will also commit Earth to several meters of additional SLR over subsequent centuries. In this context of worsening prospects for substantial SLR, we apply a new geospatial dataset to calculate low-elevation areas in coastal cities of the conterminous U.S.A. potentially impacted by SLR in this and following centuries. In total, 20 municipalities with populations greater than 300,000 and 160 municipalities with populations between 50,000 and 300,000 have land area with elevations at or below 6 m and connectivity to the sea, as based on the 1 arc-second National Elevation Dataset. On average, approximately 9% of the area in these coastal municipalities lies at or below 1 m. This figure rises to 36% when considering area at or below 6 m. Areal percentages of municipalities with elevations at or below 1–6 m are greater than the national average along the Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts. In contrast to the national and international dimensions of and associated efforts to curb GHG emissions, our comparison of low-elevation areas in coastal cities of the conterminous U.S.A. clearly shows that SLR will potentially have very local, and disproportionate, impacts.


Digital Elevation Model Tidal Wetland Mean High Water National Elevation Dataset Coastal Municipality 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Supplementary material

10584_2011_24_MOESM1_ESM.eps (15.8 mb)
(EPS 15.8 MB)
10584_2011_24_MOESM2_ESM.eps (4.1 mb)
(EPS 4.14 MB)
10584_2011_24_MOESM3_ESM.eps (308 kb)
(EPS 307 KB)
10584_2011_24_MOESM4_ESM.eps (23.2 mb)
(EPS 23.2 MB)
10584_2011_24_MOESM5_ESM.eps (14.1 mb)
(EPS 14.1 MB)
10584_2011_24_MOESM6_ESM.eps (3.9 mb)
(EPS 3.91 MB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremy L. Weiss
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jonathan T. Overpeck
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ben Strauss
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Institute of the EnvironmentUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  4. 4.Climate CentralPrincetonUSA

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