Unit 5: Regional Sea Level Changes--A Tale of Two Cities
Is sea level change globally uniform? How do sea level changes have the potential to influence major metropolitan areas during the next century? How should these changes be addressed, and who should be responsible for taking action? In this unit, the conclusion to the Ice Mass and Sea Level Change module, students explore the potential impacts of sea level change on the economy, infrastructure, and residents of Southern California and New York City. Students also consider how changes in these two regions will have a widespread influence on other US cities, even for landlocked communities.
Unit 5 Learning Outcomes
- Students will characterize regional sea level trend variations using tide gauge data.
- Students will identify potential economic, infrastructure, and residential impacts of sea level rise on Southern California and New York City.
- Students will formulate opinions on the viability of potential adaptations to sea level rise and justify these opinions based on sea level rise scenarios for New York City and Southern California.
Unit 5 Teaching Objectives
- Cognitive: Promote an understanding of causes and variability of regional sea level trends.
- Behavioral: Establish an environment for students to formulate opinions on potential responses to sea level rise, share their opinions with their peers, and justify their opinions using evidence.
- Encourage reflection about the role of uncertainty in stakeholders' planning of adaptations to sea level change.
- Encourage reflection about the costs, benefits, and challenges of community decisions about response to sea level change.
- Encourage reflection about the potential outcomes of sea level change on an area's economy, infrastructure, and residents.
Context for Use
The content in Unit 5 is appropriate for introductory geology, oceanography, meteorology, and other geoscience courses; sophomore-level courses in which geodesy and/or climate studies are being introduced; or non-geoscience courses where climate studies and/or the nature and methods of science are being investigated. Unit 5 activities can easily be adapted to serve small or large-enrollment classes and can be executed in lecture and lab settings as a series of interactive lecture activities, a lengthier in-class activity, or as part of a ~two-week investigation of the use of geodesy to understand cryosphere and sea level changes using the entire Ice Mass and Sea Level Change module. In the Ice Mass and Sea Level Change module, this unit follows Unit 4: An uplifting story of sea level change on the contributions of short-term, post-glacial rebound and melting to sea level change. If the entire two-week module will not be utilized, we recommend pairing Unit 5 with Unit 1: Rising concerns over rising sea levels and Unit 2: Temperature--a global trendsetter to give students an opportunity to make calculations about global sea level changes and think about impacts of sea level change on a developing country before they consider the potential impacts of sea level change on an industrialized nation.
Description and Teaching Materials
- Unit 5: Tide gauge student exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.5MB Dec8 17)
Unit 5: Tide gauge student activity PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 1.6MB Dec8 17)
Students are provided with information on the potential impacts of sea level rise on roads and railways; ports; coastal land area and associated infrastructure; and power plants and waste disposal facilities in New York City and Southern California, as well as several examples of strategies that are already being taken by other communities within and outside of the United States to adapt to sea level rise. A series of questions are posed about New York City and Southern California's potential responses to sea level rise, and students respond to the questions based on evidence from their reading. Depending on time constraints and desired format of the activity, instructors may choose to assign different students with different stakeholder roles before they consider and respond to the questions. Potential stakeholder roles (modified from Introduction to Stakeholder Participation, NOAA Coastal Services Center) are described below.
There are several ways to implement Unit 5, including think-pair-share; discussions in small, stationary groups; and work in small or mobile groups in the context of a gallery walk. Alternatively, instructors could forgo the discussion questions, provide students with the readings for Southern California and New York City, and go directly to the gallery walk.
- Unit 5: New York City vignettes (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 7.3MB Dec8 17)
Unit 5: New York City vignettes PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 9.5MB Dec8 17)
- Unit 5: Southern California vignettes (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.4MB Dec8 17)
Unit 5: Southern California vignettes PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 1.5MB Dec8 17)
- Unit 5: Discussion questions (student version) (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 291kB Dec8 17)
Unit 5: Discussion questions PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 313kB Dec8 17)
- Unit 5: Adaptation vignettes (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 421kB Dec8 17)
Unit 5: Adaptation vignettes PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 480kB Dec8 17)
- Unit 5: Potential stakeholder roles (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 303kB Dec8 17)
- Unit 5: New York City figures (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 3.4MB Dec8 17)
- Unit 5: Southern California figures (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 23MB Dec8 17)
Once students have completed the Unit 5 discussion, we suggest a whole-group wall walk for purposes of a concluding discussion and formative assessment. A wall walk is an interactive format for discussions of controversial topics. In a wall walk, four signs are placed in different parts of the classroom—strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree. A statement about response to sea level change is projected for everyone to read, and each student moves to the sign that best expresses his/her opinion about the topic. Selected students at each sign are asked to provide a justification for their opinion on the topic, and students have the opportunity to move fluidly between signs if they change their minds during the discussion. Suggested statements for the wall walk are listed below and provided in the Word document.
- No additional construction should be allowed in coastal areas susceptible to sea level rise.
- Mandatory flood insurance should be available to anyone with property in a coastal area susceptible to sea level rise.
- Regardless of where you live or your income, everyone should be equally financially responsible for the consequences of sea level rise.
- Coastal areas that will be destroyed by sea level rise should be abandoned, not fortified.
- In coastal areas, the highest priority item should be saving individual homes (as opposed to saving other coastal infrastructure).
- When developing a sea level rise response plan, leaders should plan for the worst-case scenario (i.e., the largest sea level rise predicted).
- When developing a sea level rise response plan, leaders should be looking ahead 100 years in the future.
Teaching Notes and Tips
Formative assessment:Example #1: If instructors choose to implement Part 2 as a gallery walk, there are several informal and formal methods that may be used to assess gallery walks available on the SERC website. Ultimately, students should be able to identify commonalities between sea level rise-related problems in New York City and Southern California, suggest potential adaptation strategies, and discuss the positive and negative consequences of implementing the adaptation strategies.
Example #2: The wall walk can be assessed by verbal report-outs and/or having students record their opinions and evidence to support their opinions.
Summative assessment questions:
Which of the following statements best describes modern sea level trends along the West Coast of the United States?
A. Sea level trends are uniform along the West Coast of the United States, with all stations experiencing sea level rises.
B. Sea level trends are uniform along the West Coast of the United States, with all stations experiencing sea level drops.
C. Sea level trends are not uniform along the West Coast of the United States. Most stations are experiencing rises in sea level.
D. Sea level trends are not uniform along the West Coast of the United States. Most stations are experiencing drops in sea level.
Level-2 example #1:
If sea level rise was once 200 m higher than today, why are we so concerned about a potential 1 m rise in sea level by 2100?
Level-2 example #2:
List and briefly describe two causes of land loss related to sea level change. Propose one strategy for adapting to the loss of coastal land and discuss the positive and negative aspects of this strategy.
Scoring: scoring rubric below assuming that this is an 8-point question.
Unit 5: Assessment Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 87kB Nov13 15)
References and Resources
- Interactive viewer: Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.
- Interactive viewer: Sea level rise and coastal flooding viewer from NOAA.
- Images: California Coastal Records Project Aerial photos of the California coastline, with many examples of coastal fortifications.
- Interactive viewer: Sea level rise: threatened areas mapping tool from CalAdapt.
- Video: Rising Tide. 13-minute film about Norfolk, VA's response to sea level rise-induced flooding. 2012 PBS film.
- Maps: Pacific Institute sea level rise hazard maps. Sea level rise hazard maps for Northern, Central, and Southern California coast overlain on USGS 7.5 minute quads.
- Video: Sea Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. From the National Research Council. ~5-minute video.
- Executive summary: Ranking of the World's Cities Most Exposed to Coastal Flooding Today and in the Future. OECD Environment Working Paper No. 1, 2007.
- Paper: The Impacts of Sea Level Rise on the California Coast. California Climate Change Center, 2009.
- Paper: Climate Change and the Potential Implications for California's Transportation System.
- Paper: Ranking Port Cities with High Exposure and Vulnerability to Climate Extremes: Exposure Estimates. Nicholls, R.J. et al., 2008, OECD Environment Working Papers, No. 1, OECD Publishing.
- Paper: Sea Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington: Past, Present, and Future. National Research Council, 2012.
- Paper: PlaNYC - A Stronger, More Resilient New York.
- Paper: Building the Knowledge Base for Climate Resiliency: New York City Panel on Climate Change 2015 Report New York Academy of Science.
- Article: Stretch of Highway 1 near Piedras Blancas to be moved inland. From The Cambrian (San Luis Obispo County newspaper), June 2014.
- Article: One English Town's Innovative Response to Sea Level Rise. From Climateprogress, April 2014.
- Article: The Netherlands leads battle against rising sea levels. BBC News, November 2009.
- Article: How does the Thames Barrier stop London flooding? BBC News, February 2014.
- Schematic: Maeslant Barrier explanation. Illustration of the Maeslant Barrier in the Netherlands.
- Article: Arctic shipping lanes open for four months by 2050—IPCC. Responding to climate change, March 2014.
- Sea Level Projects: University of Colorado Sea Level Project Tool