Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise in the Florida Panhandle and Coastal Alabama

Jessi Kershner
Posted on: 12/18/2010 - Updated on: 11/15/2021

Posted by

Jessica Hitt

Project Summary

The Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise (EESLR) project in the Florida Panhandle, Coastal Mississippi, and Coastal Alabama is intended to improve scientific understanding of the factors and scales necessary to evaluate shore zone modification and help develop a predictive tool of ecosystem modification due to sea level rise. The first step in this project was a workshop that identified relevant research questions and information needed to advance knowledge and predictions of sea level rise and erosion along the coast. The workshop also outlined a research strategy to address these needs. This project has resulted in numerous models, datasets, and publications intended to assist coastal zone managers in long-term planning for sea level rise.


A pilot EESLR project began in North Carolina in 2005 and concluded in 2012. Based on its success, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR; now the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science [NCCOS]), through its EESLR Program (now the Effects of Sea Level Rise Program; ESLR), funded a new project in 2010 looking at the effects of sea level rise on the Florida Panhandle and Coastal Alabama. Sea level rise is expected to have significant impacts on the condition and distribution of coastal habitats, as well as living marine organisms and human systems dependent on these ecosystems. Managers and planners need accurate information, models, and long-term predictions about the ecological effects of sea level rise in order to understand what management and policy decisions are needed to protect these resources. To prepare for this new ESLR project, NCCOS convened a Steering Committee of experts and hosted a workshop to identify relevant scientific data and knowledge and to determine management needs in response to sea level rise and erosion along the coasts.


The workshop was held in January 2008, and included local and national scientists and managers. The workshop was divided into five topical groups to facilitate discussions among the attendees. These groups included: (1) geomorphology and physical processes; (2) subtidal habitats; (3) terrestrial biological resources; (4) water quality and hydrology; and (5) modeling. Groups discussed habitats, species, processes, existing research, management initiatives, and research and modeling needs with regard to sea level rise. An additional group was focused on management perspectives in Florida and Alabama.

Based on information compiled at the workshop, the Steering Committee produced a white paper, NOAA Workshop: Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise in the Florida Panhandle and Coastal Alabama: Research and Modeling Needs, outlining the consensus of workshop attendees regarding (1) the requirements for scientific information and predictions, and (2) a research strategy to address the scientific requirements.

General strategies recommended included:

  • Perform targeted studies of biological and physiological tolerances to changes from anticipated sea level rise to inform biophysical models;
  • Utilize historical understanding of community retreat and migration associated with changes in sea level;
  • Improve understanding of benthic, nearshore, and upstream habitat connectivity, including saltwater-freshwater interface;
  • Improve understanding of the present and future distribution of habitats and the ability of species to migrate;
  • Use standardized parameters to help drive models as well as catalog potential areas for retreat and restoration; and
  • Ensure adequate time scales so that time scales of concern for ecological effects are as long as the time scales for planning critical infrastructure.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The project officially began in 2010 with investigators from the University of Central Florida, Dewberry, Inc., Florida State University, Northwest Florida Water Management District, University of Florida, and the University of South Carolina. The project has resulted in a number of products aimed at assisting management communities to prioritize, design, and implement risk reduction efforts. The project group produced several datasets that provide projections for salt marsh productivity under various sea level rise scenarios, improved sediment transport and circulation models, and developed predictive tools to determine the impacts of sea level rise in the region. Nearly 50 peer-reviewed publications have resulted from this project, ranging in topics from tidal hydrodynamics and shoreline morphology to communications and engagement. The ESLR program has expanded to Maryland, California, Oregon, and Washington.


Kershner, J. (2021). Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise in the Florida Panhandle and Coastal Alabama [Case study on a project of NOAA's Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated June 2021)

Affiliated Organizations

The Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR) uses a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding and predicting the impacts of natural and anthropogenic influences on coastal regional ecosystems, communities, and economies.

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