Time for action on rising sea levels

Published 3 June 2008

A sea level rise of up to half a metre will lead to an average loss of around 50 metres of shoreline, impacting heavily on many parts of Northern NSW.

That’s the grim prediction from Dr John Hunter, who will give the keynote address at
Southern Cross University’s 2nd Regional Forum on Climate Change and Coastal Communities on July 3 and 4.

Dr Hunter, an oceanographer with the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre based in Tasmania, said the sea level was predicted to rise by up to one metre in the next 100 years, leading to a dramatic increase in flooding and erosion along the coast.

“In the last part of the 19th century we have seen sea levels start to climb significantly and we can expect that by the end of the century it will rise by half to one metre,” Dr Hunter said.

One of the impacts of the rise will be a significant increase in the number of flooding events from sea water.

“The one-in-one-hundred year flood events are likely to happen several times a year, and those that now happen once a year will be happening every day or so,” he said.

“The other thing that happens as a result of sea level rise is you get shoreline erosion. The rule of thumb is that for every centimetre of sea level rise you will get around a metre of horizontal rise on average. So if we have a 50cm rise, there is a loss on average of 50 metres of shoreline.

“Certainly, in Tasmania, if you go 50-metres back that can be two lines of property.”

Dr Hunter said apart from the obvious impact on infrastructure, there would be a huge impact on coastal wetlands and shoreline habitat.

“The thing we are doing at the moment is trying to get planning schemes and building codes amended so they address rising sea levels in an appropriate way. The way planners think has to be changed,” he said. "They need to think more within the context of quantitative risk assessment.

“It’s only in the last couple of years that people have really started to take note and accept that climate change is having an impact.

“Now we have got to start talking about the details and how we are going to deal with it. The longer we wait the more expensive it will be.”

Associate Professor Graham Jones, the director of Southern Cross University's Centre for Regional Climate Change Studies, said the forum in July would provide an opportunity for planners, local government representatives, developers and the community to discuss ways to mitigate the impact of climate change.

“We will also be looking at innovations in areas such as water use, agriculture and horticulture,” Professor Jones said.

“We are encouraging as many people as possible to attend the forum and have input into ways in which the Mid North Coast and North Coast can tackle the enormous challenges we are facing.”

Anyone interested in participating in the Climate Change Forum should contact the Centre for Regional Climate Change Studies on 66203650, email graham.jones@scu.edu.au or visit the website: scu.edu.au/environment-science-engineering/

A one-day public forum will be held at the Whitebrook Theatre, Lismore campus, on July 3. A workshop for invited participants will be held on July 4.


Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.