Adapting to Climate Change in Coastal Parks: Estimating the Exposure of Park Assets to 1 meter of Sea-Level Rise - Transportation Assets

The National Park Service (NPS) produced this report assessing assets in coastal parks that may be threatened by a future one-meter rise in sea level. Over 10,000 assets were evaluated, including roads and trails, and 39 percent of assets (or $40 billion worth) in 40 coastal parks were designated as “high exposure.” The report was intended to provide an overview of NPS' exposure to sea-level rise, but was not designed to inform decision-making about specific assets at the park-level. The analysis provides a methodology for assessing exposure of systems at a national or regional scale.

Assets in 40 coastal parks (called “units”) were assessed based upon their relative exposure to sea-level rise of one meter, which is expected to occur over the next 100-150 years. The report examines a wide range of assets, including roads, bridges, parking, trails, constructed waterways, aviation, and marina/waterfront systems.  To determine the exposure of NPS assets, the researchers developed a methodology for categorizing assets at high exposure or limited exposure based upon field observations, elevation data, and inventories of park assets.  An existing Facilities Management Software System (FMSS) was used to provide comprehensive inventories of NPS assets within each of the 40 parks, allowing researchers to determine the geospatial location and estimated elevations of assets.  Assets were designated either high exposure or limited exposure based on their vulnerability to one meter of sea-level rise. Each asset was also assigned a current replacement value (CRV), which reflects the estimated cost of labor, materials, and supplies needed to replace a facility at its present function and size.

The report findings indicate that significant numbers of NPS assets located in coastal national parks are vulnerable to long-term sea-level rise and its associated impacts. The analysis revealed that more than 39% of NPS assets in the studies parks have a high exposure to sea-level rise, representing a cumulative CRV of over $41 billion. The analysis also revealed that the majority of high exposure assets are located in the Southeast United States, although more than one-third of the Northeast's assets were also categorized as high exposure. Marinas (14%) and roads (11%) were in the top five high exposure assets.

The following are examples of transportation assets which were determined to have a high exposure to sea-level rise in the report's analysis.

  • Virginia Assateague Channel Bridge: This Bridge, located on the Assateague Island National Seashore in the Northeast Region, has a CRV of $13,282,159. The report found that 95 percent of the assets on the Seashore face high exposure to sea-level rise, mainly due to its location on a low-lying barrier island. This bridge provides vehicle access to the Seashore from Virginia.
  • North Carolina State Route 12 - Route 5012 H: Route 5012 H is located along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the Southeast Region, where all NPS assets are designated as high exposure. This portion of North Carolina Highway 12 has a CRV of $98,318,383.
  • Rodeo Lagoon Bridge: This Bridge, located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, has a CRV of $1,094,452. It is one of the Area's 114 high exposure assets, which constitute only 11% of its total assets.

This report is part of NPS' Natural Resource Report Series, which publishes documents pertaining to natural resources and lands managed by NPS. The report was developed through a collaboration between NPS and the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University (WCU).  A second study of 30 additional coastal units is in progress.

NPS has begun planning for and adapting transportation assets in its coastal parks. For example, in Gulf Islands National Seashore, NPS is developing a new ferry system as alternative transportation and also realigning a road to help address frequent flooding, as well as assisting with design of “sacrificial” roads that can wash out with less environmental impact. In Assateague Island National Seashore, NPS is evaluating alternatives for relocating vulnerable parking facilities, and is developing a new General Management Plan for the park that emphasizes climate adaptation.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on January 28, 2016.


Publication Date: May 2015

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