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CR 22:255-270 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/cr022255

Vulnerability of coastal communities to sea-level rise: a case study of Cape May County, New Jersey, USA

Shuang-Ye Wu1,*, Brent Yarnal1, Ann Fisher2

1Department of Geography and Center for Integrated Regional Assessment and
2Department of Agricultural Economics & Rural Sociology and Center for Integrated Regional Assessment, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA

ABSTRACT: This study demonstrates how sea-level rise increases the vulnerability of coastal communities to flooding associated with coastal storms. The case study applies a GIS-based methodology to assess the vulnerability of Cape May County, New Jersey, to flood hazards caused by both riverine flooding and coastal storm surges. For storm events of differing intensities, it first identifies areas that will be inundated and how they will change with projected sea-level rise. It then assesses the social vulnerability of the county, taking into account factors such as age, gender, race, income and housing conditions. Finally, it combines physical and social vulnerabilities to create a picture of the county¹s present overall vulnerability, as well as how this will change with projected sea-level rise. To account for uncertainties in projections, possible ranges of both population growth and sea-level rise are incorporated in low, medium and high scenarios. The results show that sea-level rise will increase the vulnerability of the county to flood hazards considerably by increasing the areas that are exposed to the highest flood risk, hence increasing the number of critical facilities, properties, and people to the risk of flooding. Comparing the upper- and lower-bound scenarios indicates that poorly managed development could increase the county¹s vulnerability to flooding. These results suggest that decision-makers could reduce vulnerability by making choices that steer development away from high-risk areas.

KEY WORDS: Vulnerability assessment · Coastal hazards · Sea-level rise · Climate change impacts · Climate change scenarios · Coastal development

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