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A Rapid Assessment Method to Identify Potential Groundwater Flooding Hotspots as Sea Levels Rise in Coastal Cities

Ellen Plane, Kristina Hill, Christine May | October 25th, 2019

Sea level rise (SLR) will cause shallow unconfined coastal aquifers to rise. Rising groundwater can emerge as surface flooding and impact buried infrastructure, soil behavior, human health, and nearshore ecosystems. Higher groundwater can also reduce infiltration rates for stormwater, adding to surface flooding problems. Levees and seawalls may not prevent these impacts. Pumping may accelerate land subsidence rates, thereby exacerbating flooding problems associated with SLR. Public agencies at all jurisdiction levels will need information regarding where groundwater impacts are likely to occur for development and infrastructure planning, as extreme precipitation events combine with SLR to drive more frequent flooding. We used empirical depth-to-water data and a digital elevation model of the San Francisco Bay Area to construct an interpolated surface of estimated minimum depth-to-water for 489 square kilometers along the San Francisco Bay shoreline. This rapid assessment approach identified key locations where more rigorous data collection and dynamic modeling is needed to identify risks and prevent impacts to health, buildings, and infrastructure, and develop adaptation strategies for SLR.


flood management, infrastructure, modeling, Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, salinity, sea level rise, seawater intrusion, stormwater, subsidence

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