KETTLE, N.P., 2012. Exposing compounding uncertainties in sea level rise assessments.
Coastal communities and ecosystems, including those along the Carolina coast of the eastern United States, are at risk to permanent or episodic inundation, contamination of freshwater supplies, and a host of other climate change related environmental hazards due to sea level rise. In order to guide development of mitigation and adaptation strategies, stakeholders will require information on baseline conditions and projections of change. However, the interpretation of impact assessments is not always straightforward given the uncertainties in measuring relative sea level rise, the challenges in predicting the magnitude of change, and the difficulty in acquiring appropriate data and methodologies for quantifying impacts. In addition, many sea level rise assessments are not at spatial or temporal scales most relevant for decision makers. In the context of sea level rise assessments, this study presents a model to describe the various sources of compounding uncertainty that can compromise evaluations and complicate interpretations. Sea level trends and impacts along the Carolina coastline—a region at risk to significant economic and environmental losses—are then reviewed as a means of (1) illustrating the compounding sources of uncertainty and (2) testing the state of our knowledge and identifying information gaps and processing limitations that impede understanding adaptation to sea level rise.