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Sea Level Rise and Storm Vulnerability Studies

Low lying cultural resources in National Parks, such as Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park, are vulnerable to sea level rise (NPS photo).
Low lying cultural resources in National Parks, such as Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park, are vulnerable to sea level rise (NPS photo).

Sea Level Rise Vulnerability

Rising global sea level and lowering Great Lake water levels may have profound implications for costal parks. Impacts include loss of beaches and beach properties, loss of productive wetlands, loss of barrier islands that help protect the mainland from storms, and damages to historical resources and park infrastructure.

In cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey, the NPS is investigating park-specific vulnerability to sea level and lake level changes. Researchers use information on coastal geomorphology, shoreline erosion rates, sea level rise rates, storm surge, wave height, tidal range, and regional coastal slope to develop Coastal Vulnerability Index (CVI) maps. These maps show park areas most likely to change as a result of sea level or lake level change.

National Park Service staff are using CVI data for long-term resource management plans, park facilities planning, and assessing long-term threats to cultural resources. More information on the CVI program and completed CVI maps and reports are available on the U.S. Geological Survey CVI website.

Storm Vulnerability

Storms are the primary drivers of change along the coast. The NPS, in cooperation with various universities and government agencies, is undertaking a series of investigations to assess the vulnerability of natural and cultural resources to storms in coastal parks. These projects will allow managers to better understand the level of vulnerability, improve the park's pre-storm preparedness and post-storm response, and increase the safety of park visitors and employees.

Assessments of storm vulnerability are park-specific and based on events the park is likely to experience. For example, studies have been completed on the vulnerability of beaches to inundation during a hurricane landfall in Fire Island National Seashore (NS), Cape Lookout NS, and Cumberland Island NS. In Hawaii, a coastal vulnerability study focused on wave overtopping, sea level rise, and flooding for Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park (report - 5.1 MB). Lastly, a project at George Washington Birthplace Monument examined the causes of large losses of the Potomac River shoreline and the vulnerability of the shoreline and park resources to erosion (report - PDF 5.5 MB).

A storm recovery plan that focuses specifically on natural and cultural resources has also been completed for Cape Lookout National Seashore (report - PDF 6.7MB). The plan serves as a guide for incident commanders and response teams in assessing damage, taking steps to prevent additional post-storm damage, and planning for long-term recovery efforts of these resources. This plan is intended to serve as a model for storm recovery plans at other ocean and coastal parks.

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Last Updated: January 04, 2017