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Center for Spatial Information and Research

Washington State Parks Shoreline Classification and Inventory Process: Using Geospatial Information to Assess Potential Climate Change Impacts


Park managers are given the specific and challenging responsibility of acting as stewards of the natural environment for the public (Sternloff and Warren, 1984). The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission mission statement states that the agency “protects a diverse system of recreational, cultural, historical and natural sites”, “fosters outdoor recreation and education” as well as provides “a valued legacy to future generations” (Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, 2005). It is however difficult to balance public recreational use and protecting shoreline natural resources, especially when confounded by additional stresses and environmental changes potentially resulting from climate change (Suffling and Scott, 2002). For example, it is predicted that sea level rise along Washington State may be as high as 22 inches by 2050 and 50 inches by 2100 (Mote et al. 2008).

The overall goal of this project was to develop guidance on how to prepare effective marine shoreline assessments for park planners that provide an adequate baseline for assessing potential impacts of climate change. First, all the Washington State coastal parks were classified according to coastal type, using a marine classification decision support system previously developed by RGIS-PN. A pilot subset of four coastal parks representing different coastal types were chosen to be further assessed using a modified approach that has been developed to conduct shoreline inventories and analyses in Washington State, based on needs identified in the Washington State Parks Natural Resource Management Policy and using extensive, comprehensive and easily accessible data sources, including aerial photographs, maps and digital databases, already compiled by RGIS-PN as part of a decision support system developed with the Washington Department of Ecology. The baseline inventories of abiotic, biological and cultural conditions for each park and its associated drift cells identified existing conditions, determined functions and values of shoreline resources, and assessed potential impacts of climate-change-induced inundation and related increases in erosion susceptibility on park shoreline resources and ecological functions. In addition, the impact of inundation and related erosion susceptibilities for potential 2 and 4 foot sea-level rise scenarios were calculated for all 55 Washington State coastal parks in the Puget Sound, including specific vulnerabilities and potential impacts to infrastructure, geomorphology, and biotic systems.

The Powerpoint-based web guidance document was created that demonstrates the various methods of how to use available geospatial datasets to develop inundation and erosion susceptibility scenarios at park-level scales for predicted sea level rise forecasts for the Puget Sound, including a comparison of the use of Lidar and USGS DEM datasets and Vdatum, a free utility developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to vertically transform geospatial data across a variety of changing tidal datums. The guidance also describes what specific characteristics of physical, biological and land use modifications can be considered in relation to potential climate change impacts using available federal and state geospatial data sources. These findings also demonstrate a framework to collect and evaluate geospatial information to meet state park management and planning needs, including a natural resource database, habitat assessment and monitoring, land classification and conservation planning, and protection of biodiversity and geologic processes.