Climatic Change

, Volume 121, Issue 4, pp 635–647 | Cite as

Incorporating uncertainty of future sea-level rise estimates into vulnerability assessment: A case study in Kahului, Maui

  • Hannah M. Cooper
  • Qi Chen


Accurate sea-level rise (SLR) vulnerability assessments are essential in developing effective management strategies for coastal systems at risk. In this study, we evaluate the effect of combining vertical uncertainties in Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) elevation data, datum transformation and future SLR estimates on estimating potential land area and land cover loss, and whether including uncertainty in future SLR estimates has implications for adaptation decisions in Kahului, Maui. Monte Carlo simulation is used to propagate probability distributions through our inundation model, and the output probability surfaces are generalized as areas of high and low probability of inundation. Our results show that considering uncertainty in just LiDAR and transformation overestimates vulnerable land area by about 3 % for the high probability threshold, resulting in conservative adaptation decisions, and underestimates vulnerable land area by about 14 % for the low probability threshold, resulting in less reliable adaptation decisions for Kahului. Not considering uncertainty in future SLR estimates in addition to LiDAR and transformation has variable effect on SLR adaptation decisions depending on the land cover category and how the high and low probability thresholds are defined. Monte Carlo simulation is a valuable approach to SLR vulnerability assessments because errors are not required to follow a Gaussian distribution.


Land Cover LiDAR Data Mean High High Water National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Local Water Level 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Ev Wingert, Charles Fletcher, Matthew Barbee, Matthew McGranaghan and our three reviewers. Data made available from National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Coastal Services Center and Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, and Digital Globe.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of Hawai‘iHonoluluUSA

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