U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Characterizing Uncertain Sea-Level Rise Projections to Support Investment Decisions
Published: February 07, 2018
Posted: July 30, 2018

Robust decision making is used to inform idealized port investment decisions considering changes in flood risk due to sea-level rise.

The Science
Sea-level rise poses considerable risks.  Many institutions worldwide are now including uncertainty about future changes in sea-levels and storm surges into their investment decisions regarding large capital infrastructures. Here we examine how to characterize deeply uncertain climate change projections to support such decisions using Robust Decision Making analysis. We address questions regarding how to confront the potential for future changes in low probability but large impact flooding events due to changes in sea-levels and storm surges.

The Impact
The study provides a comprehensive assessment of Robust Decision Making (RDM) applied to potential port investment decisions.  We compare and contrast RDM with standard probabilistic approaches.  The probabilistic analysis begins by aggregating the best scientific information into a single set of joint probability distributions, while the Robust Decision Making analysis identifies scenarios where a decision to invest in near-term response to extreme sea-level rise passes a cost-benefit test, and then assembles scientific information of differing levels of confidence to help decision makers judge whether or not these scenarios are sufficiently likely to justify making such investments. Results highlight the highly-localized and context dependent nature of applying Robust Decision Making methods to inform investment decisions.

This study utilizes Robust Decision Making methods to address two questions applied to investment decisions at the Port of Los Angeles: (1) Under what future conditions would a Port of Los Angeles decision to harden its facilities against extreme flood scenarios at the next upgrade pass a cost-benefit test, and (2) Do sea-level rise projections and other information suggest such conditions are sufficiently likely to justify such an investment? We also compare and contrast the Robust Decision Making methods with a full probabilistic analysis. These two analysis frameworks result in similar investment recommendations for different idealized future sea-level projections, but provide different information to decision makers and envision different types of engagement with stakeholders.


Bob Vallario
Multisector Dynamics Research

(PI Contact)

John Weyant
Stanford University


This work was partially supported by the Department of Energy Office of Science Multisector Dynamics Model Development, Diagnostics and Inter-Model Comparisons (PIAMDDI).


Sriver, R.L., R.J. Lempert, P. Wikman-Svahn, and K. Keller. “Characterizing uncertain sea-level rise projections to support investment decisions.” PLoS ONE 13(2), e0190641 (2018). [DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0190641]

Related Links

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Multisector Dynamics (formerly Integrated Assessment)

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


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