Maps, laws and planning policy: working with biophysical and spatial uncertainty in the case of sea level rise

Bell, Justine, Saunders, Megan I., Leon, Javier X., Mills, Morena, Kythreotis, Andrew, Phinn, Stuart, Mumby, Peter, Lovelock, Catherine E., Hoegh-Guldberg, Ove, and Morrison, T.H. (2014) Maps, laws and planning policy: working with biophysical and spatial uncertainty in the case of sea level rise. Environmental Science & Policy, 44. pp. 247-257.

PDF (Published Version) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (2MB) | Preview
View at Publisher Website:


Rapid sea level rise over the 21st century threatens coastal settlements and populations worldwide. Significant land-use policy reform will be needed to mitigate exposure to hazards in the coastal zone. Sea-level rise maps that indicate areas that are potentially prone to future inundation are a valuable tool for policymakers and decision makers. However, errors, assumptions, and uncertainties inherent in spatial data are not often explicitly recognised or communicated. In 2011, the state of Queensland, Australia, published a series of 'state of the art' sea-level rise maps as part of its coastal planning regime. This article uses the Queensland coastal planning regime as a case study to explore how errors, uncertainties and variability in physical, geographical and biological processes in the coastal zone pose challenges for policy makers. Analysis of the case study shows that the use of spatial data in sea-level rise policy formulation is complicated by the need to: (1) acknowledge and communicate uncertainties in existing and projected rates of rise; (2) engage in site-specific mapping based upon best available scientific information; (3) incorporate probabilities of extreme weather events; (4) resolve whether coastal engineering solutions should be included in mapping; (5) ensure that mapping includes areas required for future ecosystem migration; (6) manage discretion in planning and policy decision-making processes; (7) create flexible policies which can be updated in line with scientific developments; and (8) balance the need for consistency with the ability to apply developments in science and technology. Scientists working with spatial data and governments developing and implementing coastal planning policies can recognise, communicate, and seek to overcome uncertainty by addressing these factors.

Item ID: 39091
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1873-6416
Keywords: sea-level rise; uncertainty; mapping; law; policy; planning
Additional Information:

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Date Deposited: 17 Aug 2015 03:41
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050205 Environmental Management @ 50%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1606 Political Science > 160601 Australian Government and Politics @ 50%
SEO Codes: 94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9402 Government and Politics > 940204 Public Services Policy Advice and Analysis @ 35%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960503 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Coastal and Estuarine Environments @ 35%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9607 Environmental Policy, Legislation and Standards > 960701 Coastal and Marine Management Policy @ 30%
Downloads: Total: 1125
Last 12 Months: 9
More Statistics

Actions (Repository Staff Only)

Item Control Page Item Control Page