As sea levels rise and storm surges become more frequent, what we now call the shore of Long Island Sound could eventually move inland by hundreds of yards. Rising seas could inundate low-lying areas, threaten dense coastal populations, erode shorelines, damage property and destroy ecosystems such as wetlands that protect coasts against storms.
What will the Long Island Sound look like in 100 years? Will it still support animals like migratory fish, sea turtles and seals? Will wetlands and marshes still provide flood control for surrounding areas? Will millions of people still live on and around the shoreline?
Changes in sea level and coastal areas are nothing new. Over geologic time, coastlines have shifted hundreds of miles in response to rising or falling sea levels. Because sea-level changes happened so slowly in the past, coastal species and ecosystems were able to follow the changing shoreline as it has moved inland or seaward. Today, things are very different.
The predicted pace of future sea-level rise is much more rapid, with current projections suggest that sea levels could rise between 4 inches and 36 inches over the next 100 years. In addition, the presence of shoreline development restricts the natural migration of wetlands and shoreline, effectively trapping coastal habitats between the open ocean and backyards, parking lots or other structures.
The Long Island Sound Program is working to ensure that our marshes and wetlands still exist in a hundred years by encouraging wise land-use decisions now. Working with partners, we are predicting where and how quickly sea-level rise will affect human development and coastal habitats.
The results of these modeling efforts will help to identify lands that are likely to be resilient to climate change or that could become tomorrow’s marshes as sea level rises. These predictions will help us prioritize what lands should be protected.
In addition, we are analyzing land-use policy in both New York and Connecticut to create an online toolkit to help communities make decisions about everything from shoreline management to post-storm redevelopment. State-of-the-art sea level rise mapping will also give cities and towns a clearer picture of future shorelines, helping them plan for the impacts of rising water.