Engaging Stakeholders and Exploring the Effects of Sea-Level Rise in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Coastal Mississippi, Alabama, and Northwest Florida
Submitted by:
Renee Collini
Coastal Climate Resilience Specialist - MSU, MS-AL Sea Grant, FL Sea Grant
Project URLs:

Project Description

This project, spanning a decade of research and relationship building with coastal stakeholders, has shifted how we consider effects of sea-level rise and significantly increased the available information for taking adaptive action. Detailed system of systems analyses were conducted to understand changes in future conditions (e.g., future 1% and 0.2% annual chance stillwater floodplains). Communication researchers were able to conduct studies to capture foundational principles and perspectives of the stakeholders to inform future communication and outreach activities.

Concomitantly with the research, coastal stakeholders were engaged to shape and scope the research. This enhanced the research and generated awareness and buy-in among potential data users; however, coastal stewards across the built and natural environments who did not participate in the project directly have also been the target of Extension and outreach activities based on this new research. By partnering with existing organizations outside the scope of this project that have a focus on resilience, this research has had a much larger sphere of influence. Strategic relationships were forged with regional partnerships, NERRs Coastal Training Program Coordinators, Sea Grant extension specialists, and NOAA management support staff.

Key Successes

Key successes of our project cover academic and coastal resilience sectors.
This research has made a major contribution to a shift in the paradigm of how sea-level rise is assessed, away from bathtub models to develop and apply a system of systems approach at the coastal land margin. As a result, there is a demonstrated capability to assess the coastal dynamics of sea-level rise across the northern Gulf of Mexico under historical and future conditions. The scientific research has been published in more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles. Further, the social science methods employed to engage stakeholders have resulted in transdisciplinary research outcomes that are recognized by the National Academy of Sciences as a model for other future work.
In addition to substantial contributions to science, this research has provided a foundation on which conversations about sea-level rise impacts have changed. The discussions are more nuanced and move beyond simply planning for one foot of sea-level rise by adding one foot of water to approximate future conditions. Examples of this include, but are not limited to:
• Jackson County Utility Authority planning for 6 ft of sea-level rise by examining changes in the 0.2% and 1% annual chance stillwater with sea-level rise, instead of simply adding 6 ft of water to their design
• Dialogue with coastal residents about changing floodplain conditions and shifts in their flood risk over time, visualizing very effectively the adage “just because it has never flooded here before, doesn’t mean it won’t next time”.
• Integration of changing flood risk into a tool to support Santa Rosa County, FL when prioritizing capital improvement projects
• More accurate consideration of future conditions in engineering and other coastal projects due to training that explicitly discusses translating sea-level rise projections into information about future conditions


Disparate timelines between the provision of modeling results and decision-making remains a challenge. Occasions for this science to be used is opportunistic at the decision-maker level. This is driven by funding availability, timing of required reporting and planning updates, and other external factors such as capacity or constituent priority.
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