This article was originally published in the June 2022 CERF's UP! - Newsletter: Coastal & Estuarine Research Federation.
As butter melted in the cast iron skillet, I added in a teaspoon of flour at a time and stirred. “How long do I have to stir?” I asked. This was my first roux - my first Louisiana gumbo - and in response my friend just laughed and said, “until it looks right”. Following the recipe for seafood gumbo was a challenge but ultimately yielded a delicious, steamy, bowl of Louisiana magic. Sometimes science can be like cooking – if you follow the right recipe, you may end up with useful (and often unexpectedly good) results. But science isn’t just about following a recipe to learn about the world. Often, science means creating a recipe or set of methods to get the results you’re looking for. Writing that recipe was the premise of the recent Development of Future Scenarios for Gulf of Mexico Sea-Level Rise Workshop (Workshop) at the 2022 Gulf of Mexico Conference.
Hosted the event were the Gulf Estuarine Research Society (GERS), and partners from Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, and the Program for Local Adaptation to Climate Effects: Sea Level Rise (PLACE:SLR), with Regional Workshop funding provided by CERF. The workshop was an opportunity for scientists, resource managers, and federal and state stakeholders to collaborate in developing a “recipe” or tool for projecting sea level rise in the northern Gulf of Mexico. That meant deciding what ingredients or components need to be in it, how they should be combined, and what the final product should look like. Once complete, the tool will allow researchers, managers, and policymakers who are less experienced modeling sea level rise to use existing data and create sea level rise projections unique to their area.
Creating a standard tool for projecting sea level rise in the northern Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) is complicated by variability in ocean dynamics and coastal geomorphology. Decadal and multi-decadal oscillations in ocean processes complicate understanding of current rates of sea level rise in the Gulf. These Gulf-wide changes in ocean processes are influenced at a smaller scale by variations in soil subsidence, subsurface compaction, sedimentation, and landscape morphology along the coast. All this variability means using global rates of sea level rise to infer change in the Gulf may yield inaccurate (and often significantly lower) projections. For the Gulf, models based on past trends show that sea level rise is accelerating faster than the global mean and is likely to continue along this trajectory. In response, researchers are developing higher-resolution simulations and projections for coastal stakeholders with funding from the National Academy of Science’s Gulf Research Program.
To address this Gulf-specific variability, selected ingredients for the Gulf sea level rise projection tool include tide gauge standards, satellite data, a best fit curve for historical data, lower and upper bounds for projected sea level rise based on historical data and process-based modeling (respectively), the CMIP5 global climate change models, and an opportunity for component-based adjustment. Based on discussions and novel data presented in the 2022 workshop, components for the sea level rise projection tool were refined to incorporate higher-resolution sea level rise simulations, ocean variability in process-based modeling, individual tidal gauge variability over the entire range of available data, and low confidence processes that may significantly alter the range of sea level rise projections. Once fully developed, this recipe for projecting sea level rise in the northern Gulf of Mexico will serve as an iterative tool that allows Gulf Coast stakeholders to create and update location-specific projections for sea level rise and incorporate those projections in their planning processes.
Along with furthering development of sea level rise projections, the workshop served as an opportunity for graduate students and early-career scientists to collaborate with experts in the field. Participation grants were awarded to Ashley Booth (PhD Candidate in the School of Renewable Natural Resources at Louisiana State University), Antonio Cantú de Leija (PhD student in the Harte Research Institute of Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi), Adam Murray (MS student in the School of Ocean Science and Engineering at The University of Southern Mississippi), and Nicole Powers (post-doctoral research associate at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi).