Lab 5: Sea Level Rise


In this lab, modified from Barbara and David Tewksbury's sea level rise lab, students use bathy/topo DEMs from NOAA to predict the location of shorelines after certain amounts of sea level rise and tsunami inundation. This is then combined with TIGER census data to get estimates of the number of people affected by the change in shoreline. Students then display their results with data driven map pages.

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This exercise is used in an introductory GIS course for geology and environmental studies students.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Familiarity with ArcMap and ArcCatalog; downloading data and projecting it into a common coordinate system; basic geoprocessing; basic familiarity with Python scripting; creating hillshades; working with the attribute table.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the third in a series of stand-alone GIS exercises that introduce students to using Python Scripting for ArcGIS.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Working with the style manager; table joins, raster reclassification; raster to polygon conversion; selection by location; working in the Python shell; reading ArcPy documentation; creating a Map Book with data driven map pages.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Exploring the limitations of the precision of certain spatial analysis; the difference between raster and vector data; comparison of different geographic areas and the sensitivity of their coasts; effective communication of results with maps.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials

This lab is modified from Barbara Tewksbury's excellent sea level rise exercise, which can be found here ( . Our version is slightly modified to to include a secondary shoreline analysis of an area in Asia as well as a Python component. Like Barbara Tweksbury's exercise, this lab teaches students important tools for working with raster and vector data by looking at costal sensitivity to sea level change

Lab 5a: In this homework exercise from Barbara Tewksbury, students download costal bathy/topo data from NOAA, a world bathy/topo as well as a USA Counties shapefile from ArcGIS online

Lab 5b: In this homework exercise from Barbara Tewksbury, students research predicted sea level rises and historic tsunami run up heights.

Lab 5c: In this lab exercise from Barbara Tewksbury, students download census data for their area, and prepare their census and elevation data for use.

Lab 5d: In this homework exercise, students download and prepare gridded population data for the Asia component for the exercise.

Lab 5e: In this lab exercise modified from Barbara Tewksbury, students reclassify and covert bathy/topo DEM's into shoreline shapefiles modeling a variety of different sea levels for areas in the US and Asia. They then use 'select by location' to estimate the population affected by sea level rise in their US region and Zonal statistics to estimate the population affected by sea level rise for their region in Asia.

Exercise 3: In this lab exercise, students set inputs to a Python script to compare how carious spatial selection methods change the estimates of the population affected.

Lab 5f: In this lab exercise modified from Barbara Tewksbury, students create a Map Book with data driven map pages showing the effects of sea level rise in detail for their selected location.
Lab 5a: Data Download (Acrobat (PDF) 584kB Jun6 17)
Lab 5b: Data Download (Acrobat (PDF) 79kB Jun12 17)
Lab 5c: Get Census Data (Acrobat (PDF) 389kB Jun6 17)
Lab 5d: Get Asia Data (Acrobat (PDF) 73kB Jun6 17)
Lab 5e: Impact of Sea Level Rise and Tsunamis (Acrobat (PDF) 857kB Jun6 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips


Students are assessed on how clearly and professionally their maps convey their results. Students are also assessed on a workflow and letter summarizing what they did and learned in the lab.

References and Resources

This has been modified from Barbara Tewkbury's exercise available here:
We suggest those who are interested in this exercises to also check out Barbara Tewksbury's exercise