Scenario Planning and Sea Level Rise

Today I sat in on a webinar offered by the National Parks Service on scenario planning for climate change, adaptation, and sea level rise. Coincidentally, the class that I TA for Professor Larry Susskind at MIT just had a lecture/discussion on scenario planning. I want to write a quick and easy piece reflecting on these two information sessions and scenario planning, mainly for coastal systems.

1. Scenario Planning is a lot of work, but payoffs (i.e. added resilience to future disasters) are huge: Can government agencies sink large amounts of time into the up front research needed to craft a range of scenarios? Can the governance structures of federal agencies manage to implement measures to account for a range of scenarios based on detailed socio-economic and natural drivers for change? These responses would build capacity to respond to any foreseen scenario. Based on the NPS presentation, this agency activity is in its early phases but is showing results.  An example from the webinar were the thousands of parking spaces in Sandy Hook that experienced mass overwashing and sedimentation post-storm. What do we do with the sediment to reinforce areas heavily eroded and not alter ecosystem processes on the beach? Another example was West Pond in the Gateway National Recreation area, a hotspot for birders. Once this was breached by storm surge, the Park Service had to decide immediately to repair the breech or not, and account for the brackish water intrusion. This mean looking at faunal communities pre-storm, and the implications for their nesting and breeding if the brackish water remained.

2. What people who live nearby want may be different from ecosystem-based management: A scenario like West Pond could apply here. Perhaps birders would want the freshwater ecosystem restored. But the change to brackish water was natural. Yet the Gateway National Recreation Area is heavily managed. You can see how this balancing between ecosystem functioning and services to people can create difficult decisions.

3. Scenario planning takes a lot of data, but it proves extremely useful for longterm decision-making: The webinar’s case-based look at scenario planning for climate change on the coast zeroed in on the National Park Service’s work post Hurricane Sandy. Enormous amounts of data were required to realize a range of scenarios for cases: ecological monitoring data, biological date and drivers of change, Best Available Flood Hazard data (BAFH), Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) data, and the list goes on. The most interesting point that the presenters made was that given dynamic natural change, these datasets often are moving targets. For example, if the 100 year flood plain is revised to show a difference of 7 feet pre and post storm, as it was in one of the examples they gave, building critical infrastructure 1-2 feet above it becomes an iterative process. All of this is to allow scenarios to reveal what outcomes are pretty much going to happen.

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