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  • Writer's pictureMorgan Glynn

Tackling Sea Level Rise: Adaptation, Mitigation, and Community Science

Updated: May 23

Morgan Glynn, Community Science Fellow working with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, discusses the growing threat of sea level rise due to climate change in Maine. Recent historic flooding due to storm surges and high tides have sparked discussions on how to address sea level rise and build resilient communities. GMRI has initiated a community-driven data collection through the Coastal Flooding Community Science Project, where residents can submit observations on coastal flooding to ultimately help improve flood alerts and inform planning decisions. Morgan emphasizes the need for local and global actions, combining immediate adaptation strategies with long-term mitigation efforts to address sea level rise, while fostering sustainable and resilient communities.

As climate change worsens, sea level rise (SLR) is becoming more apparent. Almost 40% of the U.S. population lives on the coasts, which means there is a large account of SLR and its impacts (NOAA). 

On January 10th and 13th, 2024, Maine experienced historic flooding as a result of storm surge coinciding with astronomically high tides. Coastal towns were especially impacted by these events, opening up discussion about the implications of SLR and how to build more resilient communities. 

With an agreed upon problem, the question now is what actions to prioritize. Should next steps be reinforcing for the next looming storm, or should they be working to stop SLR from occurring in the first place? The answer is both, along with participating in the collection of community-driven data. 

Figure 1. Photo submitted to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s (GMRI) Ecosystem Investigation Network (EIN) of flooding on the Eastern Promenade in Portland, ME on March 13, 2024.

The main drivers of SLR are thermal expansion and the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. Of the total atmospheric heat that is a result of emissions related to human activities, the ocean absorbs 90% of it. As water warms, it expands in volume, which means the ocean takes up more space as temperatures rise (NOAA). 

Another driver of SLR is the melting of glaciers and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. As ice melts and calves off from glaciers, sea levels rise. NASA projects that if all glaciers and ice sheets melted, global sea level would rise by over 60 meters (NASA). 

Figure 2. Graph created by Maine Geological Survey using NOAA data to show the rate of SLR in Portland, ME. The red line represents the long term trend (mm/yr) since 1912 and the red line represents the recent trend in SLR (mm/yr)

Since 1912, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has recorded annual sea levels for Portland, Maine. Up until the late 20th century, the rate of SLR was approximately 1.98∓0.09 mm/yr. Beginning in 1993 and up to the present, the rate of SLR increased to 3.93∓0.76 mm/yr (Maine Geological Survey). 

With sea levels recently rising at an alarming rate, the Maine Climate Council has committed the State of Maine to managing levels in a 2020 climate action plan called Maine Won’t Wait. As part of this four-year plan, Maine has committed to managing 1.5 ft of SLR by 2050 and 3.9 ft by 2100. This plan involves implementing both adaptation and mitigation strategies to meet these goals. With its end near, the state is preparing to reassess. 

Generally, the adaptation strategy involves taking actions to minimize climate change-related impacts (European Environment Agency). This could involve planning travel based on what roads will potentially be impassable or utilizing tools to visualize how high you need to raise electrical equipment to avoid damage.

Mitigation is not as direct a solution as adaptation, but is the other necessary piece. Implementing mitigation strategies means reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses to fight climate change (European Environment Agency). Fighting climate change means fighting the drivers of sea levels rise. Potential ways to mitigate SLR may be opting for public transportation instead of a personal vehicle or composting food to reduce emissions. 

Figure 3. Photo submitted to the EIN on January 13, 2024 from Custom House Wharf in Portland, ME

When it became known that another storm was coming in March this year, people prepared more thoughtfully. Although experts knew this March storm would not be as intense as the January storms, waterfront property owners at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) were better prepared. Dumpsters were secured and items were either tied down or removed from Union Wharf, a recently acquired property by GMRI. With a little more experience and more informed data came more practical application of the knowledge in the form of adaptation strategies.

To aid in the collection of community-driven data collection efforts, GMRI launched the Coastal Flooding Community Science Project. This project lives on the Ecosystem Investigation Network (EIN), a GMRI platform where residents can submit their observations of species, habitats, and communities in the Gulf of Maine.  

Figure 4. EIN submission on March 10, 2024 at from Main Beach in Ogunquit, ME

Anyone in the Gulf of Maine can submit an observation to the project page. When making an observation, you can pinpoint your exact location on the map, submit photos, record weather conditions, document high water marks and signs of erosion, share a personal narrative, as well as provide your recommendation for how coastal flooding should be addressed in this area.

Figure 5. Screenshot of submitting an observation to the EIN

Community science addresses the need for adaptation and mitigation strategies, as well as fostering a more connected, informed, and resilient community. The National Weather Service (NWS) utilizes these observations to improve the timeliness of flood alerts. Observations can also be paired with water level data to inform town planners and decision-makers for building more resilient communities.

Addressing global challenges requires firstly implementing actions on a local level. By being mindful of all types of strategies, we can make effective progress. We can implement adaptation strategies today to prepare for a near-future storm, and practice mitigation strategies as we work to build a sustainable future. Interested in submitting an observation to the Coastal Flooding Community Science Project? You can do so by clicking here

Figure 6. Map of all EIN observations in the Gulf of Maine since June 2020. 


NOAA. Is sea level rising? National Ocean Service website,, 1/20/23. 

GMRI. Coastal Flooding: Storms and Sea Level Rise. Ecosystem Investigation Network, 

NASA. Understanding Sea Level. Sea Level Change: Observations from Space, 

Maine Geological Survey. Maine Sea Level Rise Dashboard. Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry,

State of Maine Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and Future. Maine Climate Council | Maine Won’t Wait.

European Environment Agency. What is the difference between adaptation and mitigation? 

About Morgan

Morgan is from Middleton, MA, but grew up visiting Deer Isle, ME. She recently graduated from Boston University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Earth and Environmental Science, a minor in Film & Television and was a captain on the rowing team. From her time as an undergraduate research fellow, Morgan was able to merge her passions for the ocean and fighting climate change using remote sensing techniques. Morgan is looking forward to learning more about the effects of sea level rise on coastal cities, specifically cities in a state she considers home. In her free time, Morgan enjoys running, scuba diving, and cooking. She cannot wait to learn about all the positive change and innovation happening at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute during her time in the Resilience Corps.




So informative and well written

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