Simple Tool Can Identify Rise In Sea Levels, Study

A team of researchers in Singapore and the United States has proposed a simple method to identify areas that are vulnerable to sea-level rise.

AsianScientist (Apr. 29, 2013) – A team of researchers in Singapore and the United States has proposed a simple method to identify areas that are vulnerable to sea-level rise.

The method uses a simple, low-cost tool, and is financially and technically accessible to every country with coastal wetlands, say its inventors. The study, led by Associate Professor Edward L. Webb of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and involving researchers from the United States Geological Survey, was published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Sea levels worldwide have been rising, and existing models suggest that up to 20 percent of global coastal wetlands may disappear as a result of sea-level rise by the 2080s, effectively drowned by rising ocean levels.

Although the science behind the tracking of sea-level is well-advanced, it remains unknown which coastal wetlands will be most vulnerable to future sea-level rise.

In a bid to address this gap, the research team argues for the widespread adoption its proposed method, which uses a rod surface elevation table (RSET), in which a benchmark rod is drilled vertically through the soil down to the base of the mudflat. A portable horizontal arm is attached at a fixed point to measure the distance to the substrate surface, making the RSET a permanent reference point to measure the rate and direction of the mudflat’s surface movement.

“This method differs from other existing methods, such as airborne imaging, because it has higher resolution whereby very small changes in surface elevation can be measured with high accuracy,” said Webb. “Furthermore, it is able to quantify the major processes leading to surface elevation change. It is also very cheap to install and maintain so many RSET stations can be established at a single site and across many coastal wetlands.”

NUS Assistant Professor Daniel Friess, a co-author on the paper, has installed initial RSET monitoring stations in Singapore and Thailand with support from the Singapore-Delft Water Alliance. Other co-authors from the US Geological Survey have also installed several RSETs in the Asia-Pacific region.

The team envisions a trend of expanded coastal monitoring in the South and Southeast regions of Asia. Collection of relevant data across global wetlands is critical to informing not only local policies, but to generating more realistic regional-level predictions to inform coastal management and policy, say the authors.

The article can be found at: Webb EL et al. (2013) A global standard for monitoring coastal wetland vulnerability to accelerated sea-level rise.


Source: NUS; Photo: US Geological Survey.
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