Usable Science for Managing the Risks of Sea-Level Rise

Robert E. Kopp, Elisabeth A. Gilmore, Christopher M. Little, Jorge Lorenzo-Trueba, Victoria C. Ramenzoni, William V. Sweet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Sea-level rise sits at the frontier of usable climate climate change research, because it involves natural and human systems with long lags, irreversible losses, and deep uncertainty. For example, many of the measures to adapt to sea-level rise involve infrastructure and land-use decisions, which can have multigenerational lifetimes and will further influence responses in both natural and human systems. Thus, sea-level science has increasingly grappled with the implications of (1) deep uncertainty in future climate system projections, particularly of human emissions and ice sheet dynamics; (2) the overlay of slow trends and high-frequency variability (e.g., tides and storms) that give rise to many of the most relevant impacts; (3) the effects of changing sea level on the physical exposure and vulnerability of ecological and socioeconomic systems; and (4) the challenges of engaging stakeholder communities with the scientific process in a way that genuinely increases the utility of the science for adaptation decision making. Much fundamental climate system research remains to be done, but many of the most critical issues sit at the intersection of natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, decision science, and political economy. Addressing these issues demands a better understanding of the coupled interactions of mean and extreme sea levels, coastal geomorphology, economics, and migration; decision-first approaches that identify and focus research upon those scientific uncertainties most relevant to concrete adaptation choices; and a political economy that allows usable science to become used science.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1235-1269
Number of pages35
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • adaptation
  • climate change
  • decision making
  • geomorphology
  • migration
  • sea level


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