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A framework for the analysis of coastal infrastructure vulnerability under global sea level rise




O'Brien, Patrick S., author
Julien, Pierre Y., advisor
Watson, Chester C., committee member
Ettema, Robert, committee member
Rathburn, Sara L., committee member

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The assumption of hydrologic stationarity has formed the basis of coastal design to date. At the beginning of the 21st century, the impact of climate variability and future climate change on coastal water levels has become apparent through long term tide gauge records, and anecdotal evidence of increased nuisance tidal flooding in coastal areas. Recorded impacts of global sea rise on coastal water levels have been documented over the past 100 to 150 years, and future water levels will continue to change at increasing, unknown rates, resulting in the need to consider the impacts of these changes on past coastal design assumptions. New coastal infrastructure plans, and designs should recognize the paradigm shift in assumptions from hydrologic stationarity to non-stationarity in coastal water levels. As we transition into the new paradigm, there is a significant knowledge gap which must address built coastal infrastructure vulnerability based on the realization that the underlying design assumptions may be invalid. A framework for the evaluation of existing coastal infrastructure is proposed to effectively assess vulnerability. The framework, called the Climate Preparedness and Resilience Register (CPRR) provides the technical basis for assessing existing and future performance. The CPRR framework consists of four major elements: (1) datum adjustment, (2) coastal water levels, (3) scenario projections and (4) performance thresholds. The CPRR framework defines methodologies which: (1) adjust for non-stationarity in coastal water levels and correctly make projections under multiple scenarios; (2) account for past and future tidal to geodetic datum adjustments; and (3) evaluate past and future design performance by applying performance models to determine the performance thresholds. The framework results are reproducible and applicable to a wide range of coastal infrastructure types in diverse geographic areas. The framework was applied in two case studies of coastal infrastructure on the east and west coasts of the United States. The east coast case study on the Stamford Hurricane Barrier (SHB) at Stamford CT, investigated the navigation gate closures of the SHB project. The framework was successfully applied using two performance models based on function and reliability to determine the future time frame at which relative sea level rise (RSLR) would cause Navigation Gate closures to occur once per week on average or 52 per year. The closure time analysis also showed the impact of closing the gate earlier to manage internal drainage to the Harbor area behind the Stamford Hurricane Barrier. These analyses were made for three future sea level change (SLC) scenarios. The west coast case study evaluated four infrastructure elements at the San Francisco Waterfront, one building and three transportation elements. The CPRR framework applied two performance models based on elevation and reliability to assess the vulnerability to flooding under four SLC scenarios. An elevation-based performance model determined a time horizon for flood impacts for king tides, 10 and 100-year annual exceedance events. The reliability-based performance model provided a refinement of results obtained in the elevation-based model due to the addition of uncertainty to the four infrastructure elements. The CPRR framework and associated methodologies were successfully applied to assess the vulnerability of two coastal infrastructure types and functions in geographically diverse areas on the east and west coasts of the United States.


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coastal engineering
vulnerability assessments
coastal infrastructure
climate change
sea level change


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