Glossary

Sea-level rise comes with some government jargon and technical wording. Here’s a quick guide to the terms that matter most.

Legally permissible means of reaching the shore from dry land.

Adaption is an adjustment in natural or human systems to a new or changing environment. Adaptation to climate change refers to adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities (US EPA, 2016).

is the “combination of the strengths, attributes, and resources available to an individual, community, society, or organization that can be used to prepare for and undertake actions to reduce adverse impacts, moderate harm, or exploit beneficial opportunities” (IPCC, 2012).

Addition of sand, usually dredged from offshore, to an eroding shoreline to enlarge or create a beach area, offering both temporary shore protection and recreational opportunities. Putting sand where there is none necessarily raises the elevation, but engineered beaches can be designed to have a volume and height that a natural beach would never attain. Also known as “beachfill” and “sand replenishment.”

Biodiversity or biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, among other things, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems (UN, 1992). See also Ecosystem service and Functional diversity.

Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the average weather—or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities—over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period for averaging these variables is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The relevant quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation and wind

Climate change is a long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates.

A negative easement in gross whose restrictions promote conservation. Ownership is generally limited to government agencies and qualified nonprofit land trusts.

Process used extensively before the 1970s to elevate estuarine shorelines to a height that allows construction of homes. Commonly known as lagoon development, channels are dredged through tidal wetlands to allow small boat navigation, and dredge spoil is placed on the remaining marsh to raise the marsh high enough to allow development. 

Loss of sediment, sometimes indicated by the landward retreat of a shoreline indicator such as the water line, berm crest, or vegetation line. The loss occurs when sediments are entrained into the water column and transported from the source.

Exposure is the presence of people, infrastructure, natural systems, and economic, cultural, and social resources in areas that are subject to harm (IPCC, 2012).

Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (between 1850 and 1900) due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere.

Green infrastructure provides services and functions in the same way as conventional infrastructure (Culwick and Bobbins, 2016) shocks and stresses, and to adapt and grow from a disruptive experience” (Rodin, 2014). Adaptation actions contribute to increasing resilience, which is a desired outcome or state of being.

Engineering structure perpendicular to the coast, used to accumulate littoral sand by interrupting alongshore transport processes. A groin is often constructed of concrete, timbers, steel, or rock.

Permanent flooding of dry lands when the sea level rises.

Type of shore protection that retains some or all of the environmental characteristics of a natural shoreline. The interconnected set of natural and constructed ecological systems, green spaces and other landscape features. It includes planted and indigenous trees, wetlands, parks, green open spaces and original grassland and woodlands, as well as possible building and street level design interventions that incorporate vegetation.

Managed retreat is a collective term for planning strategies designed to move existing structures and planned development out of the path of eroding coastlines, rising seas and other coastal hazards.

Resilience is the “capacity of any entity – an individual, a community, an organization, or a natural system – to prepare for disruptions, to recover from disturbance."

Involves human interventions to assist the recovery of an ecosystem that has been previously degraded, damaged or destroyed.

One of three general pathways by which society can respond to rising sea level or shoreline erosion, in which human activities move inland to make way for the landward migration of wetlands, beaches, open water, and public rights associated with the shore and tidal waters. 

Sloped facing of stone, concrete, etc., built to protect a scarp, embankment, or shore structure against erosion by waves or currents.

Structure separating land and water areas, primarily designed to prevent erosion and other damage from wave action.

Activity that protects land from inundation, erosion, or storm-induced flooding, generally either through shoreline armoring or soft shore protection. 2. One of three general pathways by which society can respond to rising sea level and other processes that increase the risk for flooding and coastal erosion through use of shore protection measures, such as shoreline armoring, beach nourishment, or grade elevation. 

Placement of fixed engineering structures, typically rock or concrete, on or along the shoreline to mitigate the effects of coastal erosion and protect structures. These structures include seawalls, revetments, bulkheads, and rip-rap (loose boulders).

Method of shore protection that prevents erosion through use of materials similar to those already found in a given location, e.g., adding sand to an eroding beach, planting vegetation whose roots will retain soils along the shore, and elevating the surface grade of dry land.

The temporary increase, at a particular locality, in the height of the sea due to extreme meteorological conditions (low atmospheric pressure and/or strong winds). The storm surge is defined as being the excess above the level expected from the tidal variation alone at that time and place.

Vulnerability is the “susceptibility to harm from exposure to stresses associated with environmental and social change and from the absence of capacity to adapt” (Adger, 2006). Vulnerability can increase because of physical (built and environmental), social, political, and/or economic factor(s). These factors include, but are not limited to: race, class, sexual orientation and identification, national origin, and income inequality.2 Vulnerability is often defined as the combination of sensitivity and adaptive capacity as affected by the level of exposure to changing climate.

Process by which tidal wetlands adjust to rising sea level by advancing inland into areas previously above the ebb and flow of the tides.