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CP Sea Level Change and Coastal Impacts Coastal flooding and sea level change

Coordinated by the Alfred Wegener Institut – AWI, GER and the University of the Balearic Islands, ES

Sea Level Change and Coastal Impacts

There is growing awareness that climate change cannot solely be considered as a “mean state modification. The impacts of climate change are closely tied to regional and local conditions. Changes in the characteristics, frequency, and severity of extreme weather events are amongst the most significant aspects of climate change. To understand and predict such events, which are typically responsible for the most disastrous climate impacts, is of paramount importance. Not all extremes lead to high impacts. However, high impact events are conditioned based on the exposure and vulnerability of particular regions or locations. Different types of extremes, e.g. droughts and extreme precipitation, might be associated with different regions.

This Collaborative Programme examines how high impact events work, how they can be simulated accurately in numerical models and how we might be able to project future changes reliably, highlighting the important regional differences regarding their impacts. As such, high resolution climate and impact modelling as well as downscaling with different methodologies are among the key issues. The CP further focuses on climate risk analysis, vulnerability and adaptation.

We work based on a list of science topics. The science topics can be adjusted and allow flexible participation of ECRA and non-ECRA partners. The general strategy starts from fundamental physical concepts, continues via process understanding and goes towards the best possible numerical simulations of the global and regional changes of extreme events, including composition-climate interactions, feedback and impacts.

CP SLC Key Topics

Coastal flooding, regional studies of sea level change, extremes and possible impacts. A challenging theme for European research and coastal management.

Observations of sea level and relevant processes are important in order to improve the modelling of future regional sea level change. In some places, vertical land motion may offset sea level rise or may add to it, caused by tectonic processes, large-scale crustal adjustment from previous ice ages, and subsidence. Sea level reconstructions from prehistoric periods from and between previous ice ages can provide constraints on rates and maximum levels of sea level change.

Research tasks:

A combined use of different types of Earth system data is necessary in order to properly understand processes governing variability and long-term change.

Assimilation of high quality observational data into operational models and development of decadal prediction systems is essential for improved understanding of the Earth system, and hence being able to project future changes.

Paleo sea level records help placing modern changes in context and can be used to constrain estimates of future sea level change. Paleo records aid estimations of present and future vertical land motion, which is essential for regional sea level assessments.

Modelling and projections of regional mean sea level is necessary in order to predict future sea level to help guide mitigation strategies. They need to be improved in order to provide useful local information for assessments of future impacts and adaptation. The development of regional modelling is one of the most important tasks today. A careful analysis of the interaction of the different components affecting the sea level change has to be conducted on semi-enclosed regional seas, as for example the Mediterranean Sea and Baltic Sea.Research tasks:

The largest and the most uncertain contributions to relative regional sea level change need to be in the focus of research.

Ocean models should resolve the regional physics governing continental shelf and coastal sea level change on a local scale.

Uncertainties need to be reduced and confidence in projections improved.

Upper tail risks of regional sea level rise are particularly important for adaptation of key infrastructure, since they represent low probability, high impact events.

Decadal prediction systems will improve our knowledge of the system and the way we model it.

Reduction of emission scenario uncertainty is a scientific topic of socioeconomics that feeds back to the natural science research on sea level projections.

Changes in extreme sea levels need to be assessed and projected on regional to local scales. This requires the promotion and development of consistent methodologies across Europe and between research groups and disciplines.Research tasks:

Storm surges and flood risks need to be better known along our coasts, and ideally the same analysis methodologies should be employed across Europe.

Combining extreme sea level estimates with mean sea level projections in order to estimate future extreme levels is an emerging subject of research, and a probabilistic approach to this is recommended.

Changes in storms, wave climate, tidal regimes, and their interaction with changing mean sea levels are subjects not widely incorporated in sea level change research efforts today, but of importance for potential future impacts.

Potential impacts of, and adaptation strategies to extreme sea levels and mean sea level change need to be assessed regionally using consistent methodologies across Europe and between research groups and disciplines. A specific focus is placed on extreme events. Although mean sea level change can be harmful by itself it is the extreme events that have the largest potential for damage, today and also in the future.Research tasks:

Socio-economic impacts of sea level rise, extremes and adaptation measures on human settlements and human activities need to be assessed and mapped out for our coastal regions.

Adaptation governance and risk management is needed for society in the face of the potential impacts. The efficiency of these measures could be increased if a common methodology was shared.

Collaboration – Projects / Initiatives

Improved communication and collaboration between natural, social and economic scientists, stakeholders, policy makers, and the public, is a prerequisite for advancement of both research and decision-making on adaptation.



The CP SLC organised a Workshop at AWI Bremerhaven in February ’24 following a joint scientific writing for a new White Paper. News about publication will follow.



Once it is ready, you will find the latest White Paper here.


An Introduction Brochure to the Collaborative
Programme has been published in March 2015 and
is available for download here (pdf).


Coordination This Collaborative Programme is coordinated by:

Hilppa Gregow

Finnish Meteorological Institute


Martin Drews

Danmarks Tekniske Universitet