As a water resources professional who regularly handles issues related to climate change and water planning, I have noted in past that one of the key missing data points in scientific studies related to climate change is a reliable projection of sea levels. This is important because sea level is a key input for determining the potential impact of climate change on coastal groundwater basins. Such basins frequently have both on-shore and off-shore areas, and intrusion of seawater into the on-shore portion is affected by the relative head of groundwater in the two areas. The head of groundwater in the off-shore portion is directly related to sea level, such that a rising sea level would increase the head in off-shore basins and tend to push seawater toward or into the on-shore portion. Seawater intrusion can be a significant problem for management of coastal basins and the water utilities, industries and individuals that rely on those basins for water supply.
State agencies from California, Oregon and Washington, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and US Geological Survey (USGS) have commissioned a study by the National Research Council (NRC) on projected sea levels for the West Coast for 2030, 2050 and 2100. The study is supposed to: evaluate the major contributions to sea level; project sea levels for 2030, 2050 and 2100 on global, regional and local bases; and evaluate remaining uncertainties in those projections.
The California agencies are holding public meetings on June 8, 16 and 17, 2010 to solicit reference information and data that might be useful to the NRC study (see Sea Level Study Notice of Public Meetings). It is expected that the first science review committee meetings will be held in the fall of 2010, with the results of the study finished in late 2011 or early 2012. Hopefully, the process will not be co-opted along the way by special interest groups, and the report will provide useful, science-based information to water managers along the West Coast.