Adelaidean - News from the University of Adelaide The University of Adelaide Australia
November 2010 Issue
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No fear of sea level rise


Many people living in Australia's most vulnerable coastal communities do not perceive they are at serious risk, despite projections of a 1.1 metre sea level rise by the end of this century.

These are the findings of University of Adelaide PhD student Christopher Button, who has spent the past two-and-a-half years looking at how Australia's most vulnerable coastal dwellers perceive risks such as predicted sea level rises.

"The majority of people living on the coast are concerned about climate change but are confident they will adapt to rising temperatures, more frequent storms and even sea level rises," Mr Button said.

The 24-year-old doctoral student surveyed coastal communities on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia and also Rockingham, a seaside resort south of Perth in Western Australia.

Both are non-metropolitan areas with low-lying shorelines and houses built very close to the beaches.

"Most residents of these areas accept that climate change is real, but for various reasons are not too worried about how it will impact on them," Mr Button said.

"For many people, their coastal home is a holiday or weekender residence, or the predictions regarding sea level rises are too far in the future for them to worry about.

"This could be misplaced optimism, particularly if we are talking about the long-term impacts of climate change on Australia's coastline," he said.

"If we plan to avoid new developments in the most vulnerable coastal communities and develop strategies for people most at risk to relocate from the coast, there would be less upheaval down the track."

Mr Button said many of those surveyed had already taken some action to mitigate climate change, including recycling more of their household products, installing solar panels and reducing water usage.

A 2009 report by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency predicts that a sea level rise of approximately 1.1 metres by 2100 will erode up to 100 metres of shoreline, with many coastal dwellers feeling the effects from 2030 onwards.

The report estimates that up to $63 billion of existing residential buildings (about 247,000 houses) on Australia's coastline are at risk of inundation from a 1.1 metre sea level rise.

Mr Button is in the final year of his PhD, completing his thesis on Climate Change and Coastal Vulnerability, within the Discipline of Geographical and Environmental Studies at the University of Adelaide.

He is being supervised by Professor Nick Harvey (Executive Dean, Humanities and Social Sciences), Dr Douglas Bardsley and Dr John Tibby.

For an interview with researcher Christopher Button regarding the threat of sea-level rises to Adelaide coastal dwellers, go to

Story by Candy Gibson

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