U.S. Geological Survey
Coastal and Marine Geology
Woods Hole Field Center

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National Assessment of Coastal Vulnerability to Sea-Level Rise: Preliminary Results for the U.S. Atlantic Coast

Data Ranking

Table 1. Ranking of coastal vulnerability index variables Table 1. Ranking of coastal vulnerability index variable. Click on figure for larger image.

Table 1 shows the six physical variables described in the Risk Variables page, ranked on a linear scale from 1-5 in order of increasing vulnerability due to sea-level rise. In other words, a value of 1 represents the lowest risk and 5 represents the highest risk. The database includes both quantitative and qualitative information. Thus, numerical variables are assigned a risk ranking based on data value ranges, while the non-numerical geomorphology variable is ranked according to the relative resistance of a given landform to erosion. Regional coastal slopes are considered to be very low risk at values >0.2 percent; very high risk consists of regional slopes <0.025 percent. The rate of relative sea-level rise is ranked using the modern rate of eustatic rise (1.8 mm/yr) as very low risk. Since this is a global or "background" rate common to all shorelines, the sea-level rise ranking reflects primarily regional to local isostatic or tectonic effects. Shorelines with erosion/accretion rates between -1.0 and +1.0 m/yr are ranked as moderate. Increasingly higher erosion or accretion rates are ranked as correspondingly higher or lower risk. Tidal range is ranked such that microtidal coasts are high risk and macrotidal coasts are low risk. Mean wave height rankings range from very low (<0.55 m) m to very high (>1.25 m).

In previous and related studies (Gornitz, 1990; Shaw et al., 1998), large tidal range (macrotidal; tide range > 4m) coastlines were assigned a high risk classification, and microtidal coasts (tide range <2.0 m) received a low risk rating. This decision was based on the concept that large tide range is associated with strong tidal currents that influence coastal behavior. We have chosen to invert this ranking such that a macrotidal coastline is at a low risk. Our reasoning is based primarily on the potential influence of storms on coastal evolution, and their impact relative to the tide range. For example, on a tidal coastline, there is only a 50 percent chance of a storm occurring at high tide. Thus, for a region with a 4 m tide range, a storm having a 3 m surge height is still up to 1 m below the elevation of high tide for half a tidal cycle. A microtidal coastline, on the other hand, is essentially always "near" high tide and therefore always at the greatest risk of inundation from storms.

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Introduction/ Risk Variables/ Data Ranking/ CVI/ Results/ Discussion/ Summary/ References
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