Coastal Processes, Hazards, and Society

Module 1 Lab A: Discussion


Module 1 Lab A: Discussion

Introductions and Exploring US Coastal Property Risk from Rising Seas Interactive ArcGIS Story Map


This discussion will allow you to introduce yourselves to each other while diving into some core content.

In this module, we have examined the global distribution of cities identified as most vulnerable to coastal flooding and considered the multiple variables that determine a community's ranking.

For the Module 1 Lab A Graded Discussion, we will spend time looking at one more source of data that can be used to look at future scenarios for U.S. coastal communities and their risk of chronic inundation in the future. You will use this tool to explore what this may mean to a couple of coastal communities and respond to a prompt on this topic in the discussion forum. You will also respond to at least one other student's responses throughout the week.

Required Resources

To stimulate the discussion, please complete the following steps:

  1. Listen to at least the first 10 minutes and 30 seconds of the "Got Science?" Podcast.
    Click for a transcript of the Podcast: Got Science? Episode 36: Coastal Homes and Properties at Risk: Sea Level Rise, Flooding, and Inundation

    As we’re recording today, it’s just past the first official day of summer. I happen to live year-round in a beach town here in Massachusetts—so for me, that means it’s tourist season. They’ve arrived and they’re everywhere!

    Some folks come to spend the summer in my town, where they have houses that may have been handed down in their families for generations. Some folks come for a few weeks at a time and stay in a summer rental or the local hotel steps from the water. And some folks make the drive down from Boston to lie out on the beach for the day and grab a bite to eat.

    So many people have fond memories of spending their long summer days in my town. I do, too, of course… since I live there by choice. And so much of our local economy depends on tourism and the revenue generated by the people who visit us and spend money at our businesses.

    So I’ll be honest: I kind of didn’t want to have the conversation that follows with today’s guest, my colleague, Dr. Rachel Cleetus. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to Rachel! She’s fabulous. But she’s an economist and a sea level rise specialist here at the Union of Concerned Scientists. And her team has just released a new report on coastal real estate…and how sea level rise is a serious and unaccounted-for threat to millions of dollars worth of homes and businesses located in seaside cities and towns like mine.

    Rachel is our lead economist and policy director, which means she can clearly see how rising seas can spell real financial trouble for coastal communities. She joined us to talk about the implications of this new research, what it means for towns like mine and the people who live there…and what she would do differently if she were crowned Queen of Science-Based Sea Level Rise Policy.

    Colleen: Rachel, thanks for joining me on the Got Science? Podcast.

    Rachel: Thank you so much for having me, Colleen.

    Colleen: So you're one of the authors of a report that was recently released titled "Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for U.S. Coastal Real Estate." So tell me about the analysis and who you're trying to reach.

    Rachel: Well, with this analysis, what we were trying to do was look at the risk to coastal properties all along the lower 48 states of the U.S. from chronic inundation. And this is regular high tide flooding that's getting worse because of sea level rise. We're seeing high tides get higher reach further inland and this is putting a lot of property and people in harm's way.

    Colleen: And what's the time span that you're looking at?

    Rachel: With this analysis, we're looking as near as 2045, within the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage issued today. And then we go out to the end of this century, looking at this risk of chronic inundation which we define as 26 times per year or more of high-tide flooding.

    Colleen: So this is not from major storms, this is happening throughout the year on a regular basis, places are flooding?

    Rachel: The reality is even in the absence of storms, this type of high-tide flooding is getting worse because of accelerating sea level rise.

    Colleen: So how did you approach the analysis? What data did you use?

    Rachel: We started with data from NOAA which basically looks at sea level rise today and projections out to 2100. We localized these sea level rise projections because in many places along the east and gulf coast of the U.S., we're actually seeing higher and faster rates of sea level rise because of other local factors like land subsidence. And onto this data, we intersected a property dataset coming from Zillow to look at the property at risk from high tide flooding.

    Colleen: So you can're actually looking at a community and saying, by 2045, X number of houses will be underwater or really no longer in livable condition?

    Rachel: By bringing together this data from NOAA on sea level rise and the property data from Zillow, we are able to tell at the zip code level how many properties, the value of properties, and the tax base those properties represent that are at risk from chronic inundation.

    Colleen: So who are you really trying to reach with this report?

    Rachel: Our aim here with this research is really to inform people about what the science is telling us about this looming risk that's flying under the radar frankly, at this point, in many parts of the U.S. coast. So we want people to be educated to make decisions about key things like the homes they own which are often people's single biggest financial asset, based on the best available information about the kind of risk that's coming our way because of climate change and sea level rise.

    Colleen: Let’s sort of zoom in on the map. What were some of the communities, cities, and areas that are going to see the biggest impact?

    Rachel: Well, with this research, what we found was that there are some parts of the country, particularly in places in Florida, New Jersey, California, and New York that are very highly exposed in terms of the numbers of properties and the value of that property that is at risk. That said, there are many other places where, in dollar terms, the value may not be high but these are still people's single biggest asset. So ordinary working-class communities, low-income communities where the homes may not be super expensive, but these are people's only homes. And there are many, many of those types of communities as well in New Jersey, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Louisiana, all around the country, many communities that might see a significant portion of their housing stock at risk as well as their local property tax base.

  2. Open the "US Coastal Property at Risk from Rising Seas" story map.
    • Read the Introduction.
    • Set the map on the By Community tab.
    • Zoom out so you have a good view of the Atlantic coast. Choose a city/ community that you have some familiarity with (for example, Atlantic City, NJ) to focus on.
    • Move to the Gulf Coast. Choose and city/ community to focus on (for example, St. Petersburg, FL).
    • For your Atlantic Community, on the Town by Town page, start with the Homes 2045 tab. Now go to Homes 2100.
    • Make notes on the number of homes at risk of chronic inundation in the chosen community in 2100 compared to 2045. Make notes on their value and how much they contribute to the local tax base.
    • Repeat the steps above for a chosen community on the Gulf Coast. Make notes to compare the number of homes affected, their value, and how much they contribute to the local tax base for 2045 and 2100.
    • What Factors are taken into account in this mapping tool to estimate the future scenarios for these coastal communities?
  3. Write a response to the prompt below.

Discussion prompt:

Please write a short personal introduction and tell us about yourself, and what interests you about this course. Perhaps you have personal experiences from living or vacationing in a coastal city. In addition to your introduction, after listening to the podcast and exploring the interactive mapping tool, and your observations from these two sources, briefly describe what a homeowner is facing in the next 25 years in one of the two communities you chose to examine on the map (include the name of the city). How does this change in the 50 years following this period? What advice would you give to a 30-year-old person buying property in this location with a 30-year mortgage who is planning to raise a family in this community? Provide evidence from this module to back up your answer.


  1. Use Word or another text editor to respond to the prompt with your thoughts backed up with evidence from Module 1. The length of your response should be between 200 and 400 words. (Typing your response in Word or another text editor and then copying/pasting from Word or similar to this discussion forum is recommended to avoid losing your work midstream in the event of an accidental browser closing, intermittent Internet connectivity, etc.)
  2. Go to the Module 1 Lab A (Discussion) Assignment
  3. Type or copy/paste your response to the prompt into the text box marked 'reply' and select Post Reply by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
  4. Your response is now visible to your classmates and your instructor. Read through others’ responses and write a thoughtful reply to at least one other student by the date listed on the calendar. These replies should be either a rebuttal in which you add your ideas in the form of a persuasive argument (written with respect for the originating author), or a response that agrees with, supports, and builds upon the original response. Because a timely response to the conversation is part of your grade, subscribing to the forum is required. Check in to the discussion forum often throughout the week to post and respond to comments. Your responses to at least one other classmate should be posted by 11:59 p.m. Thursday to allow for authentic discussion to occur.


The grading rubric will help you understand what constitutes an appropriate level of participation on your part. The instructor reserves the right to not award any credit (including points for timing and interaction) if the content of the posts, however on-time they may be, are off-topic, offensive, or otherwise inappropriate. Such posts may be deleted at any time by the instructor as well.

Grading Rubric
Content Addresses all facets of the assigned discussion prompt with accurate supporting detail where necessary. A response post is at least 200 words of substantive content addressing the prompt. Posts are appropriately cited as needed. To earn full credit in this category, your comments and reply to a classmate must demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the topic and go well beyond, "I agree with you." 6 Points
Formatting and Mechanics Posts should be edited and cited appropriately as needed. While a discussion forum has an informal tone, please refrain from foul or offensive language, texting abbreviations, etc. 2 points
Timing This assignment is deliberately structured to allow you to participate throughout the week. Your initial response to the statement should be shared by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday and your response to one other classmate by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday to allow for authentic discussion to occur. 2 points