Sea Level Rise

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is assisting coastal communities in preparing for sea level rise.


As UGA Public Service and Outreach units serving the Georgia coast, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are partnering with coastal communities to help them prepare for hazards such as sea level rise, hurricanes, flooding and storm surge.

Approaching these issues from multiple fronts, we support research, outreach and education designed to answer questions about coastal Georgia’s vulnerability to hazards, support community planning efforts and increase public awareness.

UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are partnering with Stetson University, Carl Vinson Institute of Government and other Sea Grant programs in the region to provide:

  • Objective economic data and planning expertise to local governments in coastal Georgia;
  • Training, tools and assistance in accessing federal incentives to city and county governments, coastal military bases, state agencies, universities and others, increasing coastal communities’ resilience to coastal hazards; and
  • Preservation recommendations for historic areas along the Georgia coast.

What is Sea Level Rise?

Global sea level rise is an increase in worldwide ocean levels over an extended period of time.Sea level rise is a change that has been apparent for over a century, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts the rise in seas will continue beyond the end of the 21st century. This will have a substantial impact on the United States and the eight million people who live in the country’s coastal areas. Due to the location of many U.S. military bases, energy markets and ecosystems on or near the ocean, rising water levels also will become an issue pertaining to safety in the coming years.

Sea level rise is driven by global and local mechanisms. Global mechanisms include warming seas and melting of ice on land. Local mechanisms that may influence sea level rise in Georgia include subsidence, ocean currents, water withdrawals from the Floridan aquifer, tectonic displacement and other factors. Sea levels are rising across the entire Atlantic coast.

Planning for Rising Seas
Congress has recognized the need to consider future trends in sea level rise and now requires a National Climate Assessment (NCA) every four years to evaluate ocean measurements. This requirement was enacted by the Global Change Research Act and provides scenarios to help communities plan for events pertaining to sea level rise in the future.

Currently, there is no coordinated, interagency effort in the U.S. to identify an agreed-upon global average for sea level rise estimates. According to NOAA, identifying these estimates is an important step in assessing coastal impacts and vulnerabilities. NOAA estimates that the global sea level will rise between eight inches and 6.6 feet by 2100. The lowest rate assumes that there will no acceleration of sea level rise. Factors such as ice sheet melt, ocean temperatures and other global dynamics will influence where on this spectrum sea levels will actually rise.

Preparing for Sea Level Rise

Scenario planning is key when preparing for sea level rise.While scenarios cannot predict future changes in climate, they do describe and establish potential situations to help individuals make imperative decisions during times of uncertainty and unfavorable conditions.This allows organizations and communities to recognize, adapt to and take advantage of changes over time. Through implementation of these plans, effects of sea level rise may be reduced as community members are better prepared to handle the impact of rising seas. Two approaches can be taken to alleviate negative impacts associated with sea level rise, hazard planning and emergency response preparedness.

How does planning for hazards differ from emergency planning?

  • Hazard planning deals with storms of varying magnitude as well as planning to minimize the disruption of business and the lives of others during storms. This initiative is continuous and long term.
Emergency response planning encompasses all planning leading to how a community and the surrounding environment will deal with a storm once it is announced. Warnings are given up to, during, and following storms to educate citizens on its dangers and predicted effects.

Sea Level Rise in Georgia

Sea levels at Savannah’s Fort Pulaski have risen over nine inches since 1935.Scientists expect coastal Georgia to experience at least six inches of sea level rise within the next 50 years as a result of the changing climate. Much of Georgia’s shoreline lies just a few feet above sea level, putting barrier islands and coastal communities at risk for more frequent flooding, intensified storm surges and saltwater intrusion into low-lying areas. UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are responding to this long-term hazard by working with coastal governments to assess their communities’ vulnerabilities, assist long-term planning efforts and offer training based on the latest science.

What to Expect In Georgia
While much remains to be discovered, scientists and organizations have projected potentials impacts from sea level rise to natural resources, infrastructure and citizens along the Georgia coast. According to a 2012 report, Tracking the Effects of Sea Level Rise in Georgia’s Coastal Communities, written by Larry Keating, professor emeritus, and doctoral candidate Dana Habeeb from Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of City and Regional Planning, projections indicate that almost 420 square miles of the Georgia coast will be flooded due to sea level rise by 2110.
Another source of local projections for sea level rise in Georgia can be found in the fact sheet, Facts and findings: Sea level rise and storm surge threats for Georgia, from Climate Central’s 2012 Surging Seas report.

Building Partnerships to Address Sea Level Rise in Georgia
UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are collaborating with many academic and outreach units to serve coastal Georgia on the issue of sea level rise.In addition, we are partnering with Sea Grant programs throughout the region to share tools and research on sea level rise. With our partners, we are currently working with communities throughout the coastal zone to help them build resiliency to sea level rise, including the cities of Savannah, Tybee Island, St. Marys, Jekyll Island and Brunswick, as well as offering training through the Coastal Regional Commission, a multi-county planning and development agency that serves 10 counties and 35 cities.

Communities of Practice
UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is one of the founding members of the Southeast and Caribbean Community of Practice and the Georgia Hazards Community of Practice, both aimed at sharing information, tools and methodology between scientists, extension specialists, natural resource managers, state and federal agencies and others working with stakeholders on the coast.

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