Dramatic rendering of Shanghai depicting sea levels at 4-degrees C. Image courtesy of Climate Central

Climate Central: Mapping Global Threats from Sea Level Rise

As sea levels rise, worldwide coastal elevation data from NASA's 2000 Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM 3.0) is publicly available and widely used to project increasing coastal flooding risks. In countries unable to invest in complementary technologies--such as lidar--to produce more precise elevation estimates, SRTM data is the leading resource available to government and industry for sea level rise planning. But relying solely on this data is a dangerous mistake: SRTM measurements frequently overstate elevations, especially in densely populated areas. Globally, this error averages about two meters (six feet)--enough to profoundly underestimate the risk that low-lying coastal regions face from rising seas.

Climate Central has developed a new digital elevation model, CoastalDEM, by using machine learning to correct errors in SRTM data, reducing the average global elevation error to about ten centimeters (four inches) or less.

CoastalDEM is being used to identify vulnerable coastlines around the world, and new research from Climate Central--currently undergoing peer review--reveals and quantifies human threats from sea level rise that are generally unknown today. This project can dramatically change the way coastal regions protect their citizens and plan their futures as rising seas reshape their communities.