Adaptation to uncertain sea-level rise; how uncertainty in Antarctic mass-loss impacts the coastal adaptation strategy of the Netherlands

M. Haasnoot*, J. Kwadijk, J. van Alphen, D. Le Bars, B. van den Hurk, F. Diermanse, A. van der Spek, G. Oude Essink, J. Delsman, M. Mens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Uncertainties in the rate and magnitude of sea-level rise (SLR) complicate decision making on coastal adaptation. Large uncertainty arises from potential ice mass-loss from Antarctica that could rapidly increase SLR in the second half of this century. The implications of SLR may be existential for a low-lying country like the Netherlands and warrant exploration of high-impact low-likelihood scenarios. To deal with uncertain SLR, the Netherlands has adopted an adaptive pathways plan. This paper analyzes the implications of storylines leading to extreme SLR for the current adaptive plan in the Netherlands, focusing on flood risk, fresh water resources, and coastline management. It further discusses implications for coastal adaptation in low-lying coastal zones considering timescales of adaptation including the decisions lifetime and lead-in time for preparation and implementation. We find that as sea levels rise faster and higher, sand nourishment volumes to maintain the Dutch coast may need to be up to 20 times larger than to date in 2100, storm surge barriers will need to close at increasing frequency until closed permanently, and intensified saltwater intrusion will reduce freshwater availability while the demand is rising. The expected lifetime of investments will reduce drastically. Consequently, step-wise adaptation needs to occur at an increasing frequency or with larger increments while there is still large SLR uncertainty with the risk of under- or overinvesting. Anticipating deeply uncertain, high SLR scenarios helps to enable timely adaptation and to appreciate the value of emission reduction and monitoring of the Antarctica contribution to SLR.

Original languageEnglish
Article number034007
JournalEnvironmental research letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Adaptation pathways
  • Antarctica
  • Coastal adaptation
  • Decision making
  • Deep uncertainty
  • Sea-level rise


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