Another Look at Online Mapping Tool Surging Seas

In an earlier post, Zintro experts weighed in with their opinions about Surging Seas, the new online mapping tool that displays the expected rise in sea levels for U.S. coastal states.  The response to our questions about the tool was so great, that we would like to share two more Zintro expert opinions.

Chartered meteorologist Dr. Alan Hiscott explains, “The idea sounds good to me, especially the idea of locating the information by ZIP code. I guess it will include essential additional information, such as a timeline for mean sea level rise plus a return-period-related level for storm events. One of the problems faced by environmental scientists in developing such a system, whether it be for short-term warnings or long-term planning, is that many people don’t know where they live – perhaps surprising, but experience of publishing warning for events such as river flooding shows that many people don’t know which river catchment they live in. Similarly for coastal flooding – many people are unaware of the proximity ofthreat. The idea of providing such information based on postal codes should go some way towards ‘personalising’ the information for specific locations.

“While working as Senior Meteorologist for the Isle of Man Government, (a small self-governing island at the centre of the British Isles), I developed a flood warning system which included publishing ‘area at risk’ maps for a 1-in-200-year coastal surge event, including an allowance of +0.45 metres for climate change. The maps were based on GPS surveys and LIDAR mapping. The service has been incorporated into planning permission conditions for developments in vulnerable areas and is accepted as a useful tool by civil engineers and construction companies.”

Renilde Becqué is an international sustainability consultant. He says, “Although this a brave new world for some, the fight against the risks posed by an incoming sea have been fought for centuries by others, particularly in countries like the Netherlands, where this battle has almost turned into an engineering art- and an opportunity. The Dutch realize that it’s much more effective – from a risk, cost and long-term sustainability perspective – to collaborate with nature, using her strengths to our benefit in protecting us against the risks she poses. In simple terms, this is called ‘building with nature’ or eco-hydraulics. As a result, many best practice examples exist that make tackling the risk to U.S. coastal communities a less daunting feat that one may initially believe.”

According to Dr. Peter Meyer of The E.P. Systems Group, Inc. “The extent to which the tool has any impact will, of course, depend on its visibility and use. It clearly could depress property valuations in the locations expected to flood. Valuations will be most depressed for the properties buyers might expect to hold for a long time. That means vacation homes may be more vulnerable to effects from the site than primary residences, since there is generally higher turnover of the latter.

“The question remains as to whether a forecast of the most likely flooding scenario in 2100 will have any real effect on current valuations. But when one moves beyond the “single click,” one finds the ability to experiment with different levels of sea rise and the predicted likelihood of flooding by decade in the 21st century. That deeper use of the site could generate greater effects than the simple 2100 forecast. Two perverse results may emerge from this development: (1) parties may sue Climate Central for property value losses due to their oversimplification or misinterpretation of NOAA data as well as for offering statistical probabilities as definitive forecasts. (2) As property values fall, and owners petition for reduced assessments, the communities facing the threat of rising seas will lose their financial capacity to respond just as the need for public action rises.”

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