Risks to coastal settlements, infrastructure and ecosystems

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These figures may be understated. Dr James Hansen believes Sea Level Rise will be much higher if the Greenland ice sheet melts.

Risks to coastal settlements, infrastructure and ecosystems

Results of coastal erosion in Wamberal, Central Coast NSW in 1978. Photo Credit: Gosford City CouncilSince 1788, settlements have been built along Australia’s coast with the expectation that sea levels would remain relatively stable. In addition to significant settlement of low-lying areas, most of our buildings and infrastructure has been designed and built to standards that don’t take into account the changing climate.

In late 2009, the Australian Government completed a national assessment of the climate change risks to Australia’s coast. The assessment identified the climate change risks to coastal settlements, infrastructure, industries and ecosystems; it found that up to 247,000 residential buildings in Australia, with an estimated replacement value of $63 billion (2008 values), may be at risk from rising sea levels by 2100.

In coastal areas and in waterways connected to the ocean, erosion and inundation may be key impacts from rising sea levels. Saltwater intrusion into groundwater and freshwater bodies could also have a significant impact on ecosystems (such as Kakadu wetlands) and on potable water availability.

In the next few decades, areas of the Australian coastal zone with existing risks are expected to experience an intensification and expansion of these risks.

Towards the end of this century it is possible that all of Australia’s coastal regions will experience systematic impacts from rising sea levels and eroding shorelines.

Many of the risks from climate change can be managed if we plan ahead. Communities and decision-makers will need early access to information and data to help understand the potential impacts and manage the risks.

The Australian Government, through the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, has developed a number of products to communicate the risks of sea level rise and to help facilitate access to elevation data. Further information is below.

Communicating sea level rise risks — spatial maps illustrating the potential effects of sea level rise on key urban regions of the Australian coast for the period around 2100. Areas covered are:

  • Sydney, NSW
  • Hunter and Central Coast, NSW
  • Adelaide, SA
  • Melbourne, VIC
  • South East Queensland (including Brisbane and the Gold Coast), QLD
  • Perth to south of Mandurah, WA

Elevation data and modelling — a web portal that helps to discover and access elevation data and derived products.

Landform and stability mapping — mapping tool that provides information on coastal landform types (geomorphology) covering the entire Australian coast. The tool can be interrogated to identify soft areas of the coast that may be vulnerable to accelerated erosion due to rising sea levels.

Read more about preparing our coasts for climate change

Find out more about the risks to settlements, infrastructure and ecosystems

If you have questions about coastal climate change please contact: coastal.adaptation@climatechange.gov.au

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  • Link to the Geoscience Australia website  (new window)

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