February 21st, 2012 by Joshua S Hill
With rising sea-levels a real threat for communities across the face of the planet over the next century, visualising the impact of such a rise is helping communities plan ahead, allowing them to create ways to adapt to climate change impacts such as flooding and storm surges.
“To me, the visualizations are the only way that you can tell the complete story of climate change and its impacts in a low-lying coastal community,” says David Flanders, a University of British Columbia researcher who has helped create computer visualisations of rising sea levels in Delta, British Columbia, a municipality that is surrounded on three sides by water. Delta is expecting the sea-level to rise by 1.2 metres by 2100, an increase that will see waterfront homes, inland suburban developments, roads, and farmlands all severely affected. “In other words, seeing really is believing in this case.”
“It can be hard to mentally grasp what rising sea-levels can mean on the ground but our visualizations give people a glimpse of what their future world will look and feel like in their own backyards. They help community members understand how their quality of life can be affected by climate change, and by the decisions they make to deal with climate impacts.”
Currently, Delta, B.C. is an agricultural region with a population of about 100,000. The people of Delta have traditionally used dykes to protect the land from flooding and tides, but new provincial guidelines for the construction of new homes have more than doubled the recommended finished floor elevation to compensate for the expected increase in sea level. Dike construction guidelines have changed as well, with some being forced to increase their top-of-wall height to more than two times the current elevation above mean sea level.
Flanders and his team have created visualisations that show the water levels in Delta increase, and what impact that would have on the current infrastructure of the region.
“Combine the sea-level rise with bigger storms, more wind, more waves and high-tide and that’s an enormous amount of water,” says Flanders.
The researchers created five scenarios for Delta, showing what would happen under various circumstances.
The visualisations don’t simply show what could happen, but they also provide a look at the cost of each solution for the municipality, to individual property owners, and the trade-offs between protecting roads, habitat, homes, waterfront views, and agricultural production.
“What is becoming evident is that there is no single, perfect solution. Each alternative pathway has trade-offs associated with it, and this planning process has been very effective at communicating those trade-offs, and assessing acceptability,” says Flanders.
“Communities will have to decide what their priorities are, and likely plan for a mosaic of different solutions, because each neighbourhood has its own set of concerns and its own idea of what will be possible. This visioning process can help inform these kinds of tough decisions that many low-lying communities will have to make over the next 20, 50 and 100 years.”
Source: University of British Columbia
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