Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report:
NOAA Coastal Services Center

The NOAA Coastal Services Center provides skills and information resources to state and local resource managers. Focus areas include hazards, habitats, sustainable communities, and data information access and usability.





“Seeing” Sea Level Rise and Improving Local Sea Level Rise Scenarios

Tools served on the NOAA Coastal Services Center's Digital Coast website enable officials to create maps and visualizations showing different sea level rise scenarios.

Tools served on the NOAA Coastal Services Center's Digital Coast website enable officials to create maps and visualizations showing different sea level rise scenarios. Depicted here is six feet of sea level rise in the Galveston, Texas area.

Some audiences begin to understand coastal changes—like flooding as a result of sea level rise—only when they can visualize the impacts. For this reason the NOAA Coastal Services Center developed the Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer. Using local elevation data and visualization software, this viewer allows users to see, in maps and pictures, how one to six feet of sea level rise might affect their coastal communities.

Featured on NOAA's Digital Coast website, this tool has been very popular, garnering 9,760 direct Web hits between Oct. 1, 2011, and July 20, 2012. The viewer is in year three of a four-year effort, with a total of 98 counties or parishes in six states now covered. The remaining portions of Florida and Georgia were added this year; the West Coast region and most of the Mid-Atlantic region will be added in fall 2012. The release of the viewer by region will include webinars and meetings to ensure its application by coastal managers.

Also, moving beyond the "one size fits all" approach, NOAA published Incorporating Sea Level Change Scenarios at the Local Level, a guide that offers eight steps officials can take to make global sea level change projections meaningful on a local level. This lay-friendly companion piece to a 2010 NOAA technical publication draws on the combined expertise of several NOS offices: the Coastal Services Center, the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, the National Geodetic Survey, and the Office of Coast Survey.

Training the Nation's Coastal Resource Management Community

Two hundred eight and counting—that’s the number of coastal counties benefiting just this year from NOAA-led coastal resource management learning opportunities available through the Digital Coast website. These opportunities include training courses, webinars, and workshops. Topics help participants integrate coastal resilience concepts, vulnerability assessments, and adaptation tools and strategies within their own communities.

Providing Technical Assistance to Address Coastal Issues

The NOAA Coastal Services Center continued to provide both remote and on-the-ground technical assistance to coastal officials on a wide variety of topics, particularly data, technology, and social sciences. During fiscal year 2012, the Center’s regional offices addressed tsunami preparedness in the Pacific Islands, provided sea level rise adaptation expertise in West Coast cities and counties, and conducted analyses of lake-level change along Great Lakes shorelines, to name a few of their many efforts.

A consulting firm hired to conduct an evaluation of technical assistance spoke with nearly 100 recent customers, and the responses were impressive. NOAA Coastal Services Center assistance helped 99 percent of customers achieve their objectives, 97 percent were satisfied with the quality of the assistance they received, and 95 percent said the assistance met their needs.

New Standard for Coastal and Marine Ecological Data

Data standards are what make it possible to use, share, and integrate data from different sources. This year NOAA led the development of the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS)—a new data standard that will give coastal managers, researchers, and others greater access to physical, biological, and chemical data that are collectively used to define coastal and marine ecosystems.

Numerous sectors participated, and the effort was recently endorsed by the Federal Geographic Data Committee. The new standard is now ready for international implementation, a process that is already underway as the standard is currently being used in numerous state, federal, international, and nonprofit data efforts.

Exploring the “People Side” of Coastal Management

In addition to the physical sciences, local and state officials must consider the “people side” of the equation when making coastal management decisions, yet social science data—where people live, what they do, and what they value—has been a little-used resource. The NOAA Coastal Services Center recognized the need to use social science information and provided an opportunity to explore the topic by hosting the Social Coast Forum in February 2012, the first conference dedicated to coastal officials and social science practitioners.

Forum participants discussed the use of social science tools, data, and methods to address issues such as climate change, land use planning, ecosystem services, and human uses of the oceans. The forum, another is planned for 2014, is one of many NOAA activities focused on increasing the use of social science tools and data in coastal community settings. A few of these aids include the Economics: National Ocean Watch and Social Coast Web portals, Coastal County Snapshots tool, and publications on using photorealistic visualizations and increasing stakeholder participation. Center staff members work with local and state partners in each coastal region to ensure that communities are using this high-demand social vulnerability information through forums such as the Gulf of Mexico Climate Community of Practice.