Cost and Materials Required to Retrofit US Seaports in Response to Sea Level Rise: A Thought Exercise for Climate Response

Austin Becker, University of Rhode Island
Ariel Hippe
Elizabeth Mclean, University of Rhode Island


Climate changes projected for 2100 and beyond could result in a worldwide race for adaptation resources on a scale never seen before. This paper describes a model for estimating the cost and materials of elevating coastal seaport infrastructure in the United States to prevent damage from sea level rise associated with climate change. This study pilots the use of a generic port model (GenPort) as a basis from which to estimate regional materials and monetary demands, resulting in projections that would be infeasible to calculate on an individual port-by-port basis. We estimate the combined cost of adding two meters of additional fill material to elevate the working surface and then reconstructing the generic port. We use the resulting unit area cost to develop an estimate to elevate and retrofit 100 major United States commercial coastal ports. A total of $57 billion to $78 billion (2012 US dollars) and 704 million cubic meters of fill would be required to elevate the 100 ports by two meters and to reconstruct associated infrastructure. This estimation method and the results serve as a thought exercise to provoke considerations of the cumulative monetary and material demands of widespread adaptations of seaport infrastructure. The model can be adapted for use in multiple infrastructure sectors and coastal managers can use the outlined considerations as a basis for individual port adaptation strategy assessments.