29 September 2014
Sea levels are expected to rise by around one metre by the year 2100 leading to inundation of many coastal communities. Photo by Javier Leon Patino.
Sea levels are expected to rise by around one metre by the year 2100 leading to inundation of many coastal communities. Photo by Javier Leon Patino.

Coastal councils and planning authorities will be able to more accurately predict the chance of communities being inundated by the ocean as sea levels rise.

Research by The University of Queensland has led to a new technique for mapping a “probable” one-metre inundation by 2100 allowing researchers to identify parts of the coastline most at risk. The work was published last week in the academic journal PLOS One

Researcher Javier Leon Patino from UQ’s Global Change Institute is in discussions with coastal councils about applying the methodology.

“Rising sea levels could cause devastating flooding and erosion in coastal communities, doing damage worth billions of dollars,” Dr Leon said.

“This research will help protect existing developments, such as beachside towns, and will help plan more appropriately for future development.” 

Current coastal planning was based on elevation information accurate to 20cm, he said. 

“This is a significant margin of error and makes decisions around future developments difficult and dangerous,” Dr Leon said.

“Working from imprecise information could give communities a false sense of security when in fact their neighbourhood may be at risk.

“There are significant implications for real estate values and coastal planning.”

Dr Leon said the new approach would further assist in decision-making processes by determining the probability of inundation not just with sea level rise, but also during events such as storm surges.

“It’s similar to weather forecasters giving the probability of rain,” he said.

More than 75 per cent of Australians and 10 per cent of the global population live near a coast.

“Improving the accuracy of mapping coastal inundation is the first line of defence in protecting our land and developments from the impact of a changing climate,” Dr Leon said.

A Climate Council released report earlier this month estimated that $200 billion of Australian infrastructure was at risk from rising sea levels due to climate change.

Contact: Adam Harper, GCI communications, a.harper@uq.edu.auph +61 7 3443 3148. 

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