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Coastal Hazards

29 August 2011, 6:31 pm

globe with climate change model overlayed

Coastal Hazards

Do you live on or near the coast? The odds are better than 50-50 that you do. In 2010, 52 percent of us lived in one of the nation's 673 coastal counties (excluding Alaska). It's no secret why so many of us choose to live in coastal regions. These are areas of great bounty and beauty. The downside? These areas are also prone to many natural hazards such as erosion, harmful algal blooms, big storms, flooding, tsunamis, and sea level rise.

Local and state governments are on the forefront of the effort to minimize the environmental, social, and economic havoc these hazards can wreak. And NOS is there to provide tools, information, and training to help these agencies keep communities safe and resilient.

Want to dig a little deeper? Check out NOAA's State of the Coast for interactive, data-driven maps about our coastal areas.

  • Adapting to Climate Change What can we expect from the climate in the coming decade? In the next century? How about hundreds of years from now? Scientists at NOAA and agencies around the world are actively researching these questions, but one thing is clear. We are experiencing the effects of climate change today — particularly in coastal communities. One of the National Ocean Service’s key roles is to help coastal communities develop strategies to prepare. NOS experts are working directly with state decision makers and planners to share knowledge, talk about issues, and help identify climate change-related risks and vulnerabilities in their communities. Read more (redirect to original article)

  • Sea Level Rise. With the majority of us living in coastal states, one impact of climate change many of us should be concerned about is sea level rise. How do scientists keep track of these changes in sea level in the U.S.? NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) maintains a National Water Level Observation Network of 200 stations around the country. Monitoring the rate of sea level rise is an important component to helping us adapt to this change. NOS is also measuring and helping people understand the magnitude of sea level rise on a local scale. CO-OPS provides a service called Sea Levels Online that serves up local rates of sea level rise for all U.S. coasts to help coastal decision makers understand and quantify risks. After all, we can’t plan for something if we don’t know what to expect!

  • Coastal Storms. The high winds, flooding, and erosion associated with coastal storms such as hurricanes and nor’easters pummel coastal communities every year. And scientists estimate that the frequency and intensity of these storms is only going to increase. That’s kind of scary. NOS is helping communities get ready for these storms so they will incur less damage and bounce back more quickly in the aftermath. For example, NOAA’s Coastal Services Center leads the Coastal Storms Program. This program brings together local, state, and federal organizations to deliver the specific tools, training, data, and other products to reduce the loss of life and other impacts from storms on communities and the environment. Read more (redirect to original article)

  • Erosion. While it might be nice to have a house that is close to the ocean, there is such a thing as being too close. Erosion—caused by storms, flooding, sea level rise, or the alteration of the shoreline—can cause beaches and coastal bluffs to wear away. And that can be bad news for our homes and infrastructure. How bad? Today, erosion is responsible for around $500 million in coastal property loss each year. As required by the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Office of Coastal and Ocean Resource Management works with state coastal management programs to not only minimize loss of life and property caused by erosion, but to do so while protecting natural coastal resources. Accomplishing both things requires the development of shoreline management policies, regulations, and plans. The office, in partnership with NOAA’s Restoration Center, offers a Shoreline Management Technical Assistance Toolbox to help coastal managers and local decision makers manage their shorelines. Read more (redirect to original article)

  • Harmful Algal Blooms. Coastal threats come in many forms. Harmful Algal Blooms—commonly referred to as ‘red tides’—are a good example of this. Economic impacts of harmful algal blooms in the United States average $75 million annually including impacts on public health costs, commercial fishing closures, recreation and tourism losses, and management and monitoring costs. When these events occur, NOS is there to help coastal states. For instance, the NOAA Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System provides alert bulletins to help predict HAB landfall for the states that border the Gulf of Mexico. How? NOS scientists can locate blooms by assessing surface chlorophyll concentrations detected by satellite imagery and verified by data from ships or along the shore. They then apply their understanding of the biological and physical aspects of bloom dynamics and transport and the conditions that are conducive for HAB development to predict when and where HABs will impact coastal communities. Read more (redirect to original article)

  • Hypoxia & Eutrophication. Have you ever heard of the phrase 'dead zone?' No, we're not talking about a B-movie horror flick. We're talking about a phenomenon called 'hypoxia,' which refers to a reduced level of oxygen in the water. Less oxygen dissolved in the water is often referred to as a "dead zone" because most marine life either dies, or, if they are mobile such as fish, leave the area. Habitats that would normally be teeming with life become, essentially, biological deserts. NOS is involved with many activities to study, monitor, and predict hypoxic zones to help natural resource managers restore and protect coastal ecosystems. The Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research is at the forefront of this effort. This office, part of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, administers the nation's only federal-level hypoxia programs. The goal of these efforts involve collecting vast amounts of sampling data from our hypoxia-prone coastal waterways, synthesizing this information, and producing complex computer models to understand how these zones are forming—and how they may form in the future. Knowing how these zones form in different parts of the country is also key in helping decision-makers target which activities on land need to curbed to best reduce this threat. Read more (redirect to original article)

  • Tsunamis. Tsunamis are giant waves caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions under the sea. Out in the depths of the ocean, tsunami waves do not dramatically increase in height. But as the waves travel inland, they build up to higher and higher heights as the depth of the ocean decreases. The speed of tsunami waves depends on ocean depth rather than the distance from the source of the wave. NOS' primary role in tsunami warning is to provide real-time coastal water level data to NOAA's Tsunami Program and the public, which is critical to issuing warnings and forecasts during an event. High-frequency water level information is also important to tsunami modeling, both during and after an event, to refine the forecasts as the event progresses, and to better understand tsunami science for future improvements to the National Tsunami Warning System. Read more (redirect to original article)

Original article: Coastal Hazards