Tracking the Effects of Sea Level Rise in Georgia's Coastal Communities

This report focuses on the sea level rise impacts as well as adaptation opportunities for three counties along the Georgia coast (Chatham, Liberty, and McIntosh).  The result of a semester-long graduate planning studio at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the project's goal is to provide residents, decision-makers, and researchers with information that can help to proactively plan for future sea level rise (SLR).

To quantify the impacts of SLR, the social and physical geographies of the three-counties were analyzed through a geospatial analysis in ArcGIS. For the physical vulnerability analysis, several physical variables were identified that allow quantification of the impact that sea level rise will have on both the built and natural environments including land cover, land use, buildings, transportation infrastructure, service and cultural facilities. Additionally, they investigated the impact of sea level rise on rare and endangered ecosystems and habitats. 

The vulnerability of the population in the region to sea level rise is assessed. The factors considered in the analysis include age, race and ethnicity, gender and family status, education, occupation and employment, income and poverty, housing and the built environment, mode of transportation, and disability. 

Following the vulnerability assessment, a temporal and spatial analysis is provided. In order to project sea level rise during the interim periods, a high-resolution digital elevation model (DEM) was used to create new data. The impacts on various factors were then calculated using this new data, the results of which are presented - following an overview of the data and methods used. 

The Adaptation chapter of the report reviews full retreat, full protection, and accommodation approaches to building coastal resiliency, along with a discussion of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) approach. The TBL concept accounts for the sustainability of place, people, and economy and how these elements might be sustained over time, and the report then reviews the impacts on people, place and economy for each of the adaptive measures discussed. The 'Adaptation Policies for Guiding Future Development' section provides analyses of comprehensive planning, flood insurance and the National Flood Insurance Program, Land Compensation programs, alternatives for shore protection, infrastructure adaptation, and adaptation options for wetlands. The adaptation strategies for wetlands are detailed and three case studies are provided: the Worcester County (MD) Conservation Easement Strategy, the Mississippi River Delta Management Plan, and the Restoration of Pelican Island, Louisiana. 

Climate scientists have projected that in approximately 100 years sea level will rise by at least one meter along the Georgia coast. The study region for this report comprises over a half (56%) of Georgia's coastal area, spanning 1,378 square miles and containing a population of 334,099. The land area covered by the three counties are predominantly characterized by vegetation, namely by forests (42.89%) and wetlands (37.13%). Developed land encompasses the third-largest portion of the study area’s land (13.62%), though most of this is located within Chatham county. The extensiveness of the marsh hammocks along Georgia’s coast makes it unique - with over 17,000 acres of marsh hammocks supporting maritime forests, coastal wooded habitats and nesting sites for many birds, animals and fish which are disappearing.

The three-county study area contains eleven of the Coast’s seventeen barrier islands including: Wilmington Island, Tybee Island, Little Tybee Island, Skidaway Island, Wassaw Island, Ossabaw Island, Colonels Island, St. Catherine’s Island, Blackbeard Island, Sapelo Island, and Wolf Island. 




Publication Date: December 14, 2012

Authors or Affiliated Users:

  • Larry Keating
  • Dana Habeeb
  • Gillam Campbell
  • Marvin Clermont
  • Kathryn Colberg
  • Richelle Gosman
  • Anna Rose Harkness
  • Amy Moore Hugens
  • Paul Lorenc
  • Dzung Nguyen
  • Jennifer Yun
  • Joy Zhou

Related Organizations:

  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Georgia Conservancy


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Case study

States Affected:


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