Tidally adjusted estimates of topographic vulnerability to sea level rise and flooding for the contiguous United States

Benjamin H. Strauss, Remik Ziemlinski, Jeremy L. Weiss, Jonathan T. Overpeck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


Because sea level could rise 1m or more during the next century, it is important to understand what land, communities and assets may be most at risk from increased flooding and eventual submersion. Employing a recent high-resolution edition of the National Elevation Dataset and using VDatum, a newly available tidal model covering the contiguous US, together with data from the 2010 Census, we quantify low-lying coastal land, housing and population relative to local mean high tide levels, which range from 0 to 3m in elevation (North American Vertical Datum of 1988). Previous work at regional to national scales has sometimes equated elevation with the amount of sea level rise, leading to underestimated risk anywhere where the mean high tide elevation exceeds 0m, and compromising comparisons across regions with different tidal levels. Using our tidally adjusted approach, we estimate the contiguous US population living on land within 1m of high tide to be 3.7million. In 544 municipalities and 38 counties, we find that over 10% of the population lives below this line; all told, some 2150 towns and cities have some degree of exposure. At the state level, Florida, Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey have the largest sub-meter populations. We assess topographic susceptibility of land, housing and population to sea level rise for all coastal states, counties and municipalities, from 0 to 6m above mean high tide, and find important threat levels for widely distributed communities of every size. We estimate that over 22.9million Americans live on land within 6m of local mean high tide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number014033
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • VDatum
  • climate change
  • coastal flooding
  • flooding
  • hazard mapping
  • sea level rise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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