Enhancing Stakeholder Capacity for Coastal Inundation Assessment in the Marshall Islands

As a low-lying coastal nation, the Republic of the Marshall Islands is at the forefront of exposure to climate change impacts. The Republic of the Marshall Islands has a strong dependence on natural resources and biodiversity not only for food and income but also for culture and livelihood. However, these resources are threatened by rising sea levels and associated coastal hazards (storm surges, saltwater intrusion, erosion, etc.). High-quality data for atoll ‘ridge to reef’ (land and ocean) areas are needed to provide remote communities with the tools and strategies to make adaptation efforts before disasters occur.

Although the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ National Strategic Plans recognize the need to conduct vulnerability assessments and undertake disaster risk reduction efforts in order to build the nation’s ability to adapt, there is a lack of local expertise in carrying out these efforts. To address this knowledge gap, this project will focus on building stakeholder technical capacity for quantitative assessments of the Islands’ exposure to coastal inundation hazards.

This research will support ongoing efforts to use community-driven resource management planning through the Republic of the Marshall Islands “Ridge to Reef” Project. In support of the “Ridge to Reef” project, the Marshall Islands Conservation Society has been carrying out a terrestrial biophysical survey on four sites (Mejit Island, Ebon, Likiep, Aur Atolls). In collaboration with USGS and Pacific Island CASC scientists, the research team will use the collected biophysical data from that effort to generate inundation exposure models for the four sites to simulate future coastal inundation. While producing the inundation assessments, an instruction manual will be compiled that will be used to train Republic of the Marshall Islands stakeholders on inundation modeling, thereby transferring technology and building local technical capacity. The scientific products will be made available for stakeholder use and findings will be integrated into each site’s disaster risk reduction strategy and discussed in community consultations with schools, community centers, and council houses.

Airplane view looking down along a line of small, tree-covered islands surrounded by shallow lagoons and ocean waves
With high points at barely two meters above sea level, atolls of the Republic of the Marshall Islands are at great risk of temporary flooding or permanent inundation from sea-level rise. (Photo: Curt Storlazzi, USGS)




Dean Gesch
Research Scientist, USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center


Dolores deBrum Kattil
Marshall Islands Conservation Society
Martin Roman
Marshall Islands Conservation Society