Sea Level Rise Models

There are a number of models designed to provide a preliminary look at exposures to coastal sea-level rise based on current U.S. government data. Most are useful for illustrating flood risk at the state or regional level, such as the web-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sea Level Rise Viewer (NOAA 2016). Some risk-mapping tools are capable of visual resolution high enough to show photo images of individual homes and businesses exposed to flooding. Examples include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Floo d Map Service Center Climate Toolkit (FEMA 2017a) and the NOAA U.S. Climate Resilience Tool Kit Coastal Flood Exposure Mapper (NOAA 2017b). At the scale of small communities within a U.S. county or city, models often incorporate realism into their design. Some also include end-user interactive interfaces. When the viewer enters virtual reality and engages in the interactive simulation of sea-level rise around her/his own property, users express a significant increase in their intent to reduce their risk as compare to viewing a ready-made map of risk (Kuser Olsen, et al. 2016).

In the face of uncertainty when predicting sea-level rise, accessibility to real-time information about coastal flood risk and risk management options is essential in the difficult task of exploring ways to improve community resilience (Wood et al. 2012, Linkov et al. 2014). In the USA, most states and many county and city municipalities employ trained geographic information systems (GIS) technicians to update flood-risk maps in coordination with FEMA and other federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and academic consultants. Desktop systems designed for use by trained GIS technicians include Avantis PRiSM Predictive Analytics TM (Schneider Electric SE 2016) and FEMA’s Methodology for Estimating Potential Losses from Disasters, HAZUS (FEMA 2017b), based on Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI 2017) software.

There are situations where the cost of these sophisticated models may place them out of reach of the laypersons at risk of flooding. Technology is available today that provides alternative options that are less costly and require less technical training. With access to flood risk information and easy-to- use software, individuals at risk can directly participate in constructing computer models on their own equipment. To be effective, it is essential that the software be familiar to the user (Vinge 2006). Web-based mapping tools often provide this. Google Earth™ (GoogleEarth 2018) provides a familiar platform for implementing the interface between the user and the U.S. government source data (Kuser Olsen et al. 2016). FEMA flood zone information is displayed in Google Earth TM as a GIS layer using the National Flood Hazard Layer (NFHL) keyhole markup language zipped (KMZ) file (FEMA and GoogleEarth 2017). Climate Central Surging Seas (Climate Central 2017), the NOAA Climate Explorer (NOAA 2017a), and the NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer (NOAA 2016) are examples of web-based mapping tools that engage users in the process of interactive visualization, though the interaction lasts less than a minute with a few quick clicks on the websites’ map legends.