Managing coasts under threat from climate change and sea-level rise

Managing coasts under threat from climate change and sea-level rise

UOW coastal expert Professor Colin Woodroffe contributes to influential climate change report.

Coastal regions under threat from climate change and sea-level rise need to tackle the more immediate threats of human-led and other non-climatic changes, according to a team of international scientists.

The team of 27 scientists from five continents, led by Dr Sally Brown at the University of Southampton, reviewed 24 years of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments (the fifth and latest set being published in 2013 and 2014). They focused on climate change and sea-level rise impacts in the coastal zone, and examined ways of how to better manage and cope with climate change.

They found that to better understand climate change and its impacts, scientists need to adopt an integrated approach into how coasts are changing. This involves recognising other causes of change, such as population growth, economic development and changes in biodiversity.

Dr Brown emphasised that: “Over the last two and half decades, our scientific understanding of climate change and sea-level rise, and how it will affect coastal zones has greatly increased. We now recognise that we need to analyse all parts of our human and natural environments to understand how climate change will affect the world.”

The scientists also acknowledged that long-term adaptation to climate change can greatly reduce impacts, but further research and evaluation is required to realise the potential of adaptation.

“Many parts of the coast can, with forward planning, adapt to sea-level rise, but we need to better understand environments that will struggle to adapt, such as developing countries with large low-lying river deltas sensitive to salinisation, or coral reefs and particularly small, remote islands or poorer communities,” Dr Brown said.

Co-author Professor Colin Woodroffe, from UOW’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, along with postgraduate students under his supervision, have been studying some of these very vulnerable coastlines, including deltas in Vietnam and Bangladesh, and low-lying islands on coral atolls.

“The coasts of the Illawarra and southern New South Wales might not appear as vulnerable as those in developing countries,” Professor Woodroofe said.

“However, we in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences are investigating adaptive management options that are already a part of managing these coastlines, such as the timing of the opening of coastal lagoons, and the nature and extent of vegetation on foredunes.”

This new research, published as a commentary in Nature Climate Change, will help in the understanding of the impacts of climate change and how to reduce impacts via adaptation. Its multi-disciplinary approach could be useful if future IPCC assessment reports are commissioned.

Media contact: Elise Pitt, Media & PR Officer, +61 2 4221 3079, +61 422 959 953,