Rising seas threaten airports

An article appeared in the Conversation in 2019, which highlighted the risks to Australia's major airports from rising seas as a result of climate change (see The Conversation). Cairns (less than 3m above sea level), Sydney and Brisbane (under 4m), and Townsville and Hobart (both around under 5m) were identified as airports among the most vulnerable. The risk is probably even greater in 2021 following new evidence of accelerating sea level increases (see Rebecca Lindsey 2021). The last national assessment of climate change risks to Australia's coasts was a first-pass assessment only released in 2009 (Climate Change Risks to Australia's Coasts 2009). The risks to regional airfields, airstrips and landing areas needs more analysis as many towns and communities rely heavily on this infrastructure. There are also fewer funds to undertake protection works if these are possible at all. Protection works are not always a solution as, for example, re-directed wave energy may accelerate erosion nearby.

The coastal hazards are flooding and erosion. The satellite image above shows erosion hazard data for Flinders Island Airport at Whitemark. Flinders Island Airport has a high erosion hazard due to an open coast and soft sandy sediments. The data indicates that the nearby town of Whitemark is more at risk of inundation compared with the Airport. Examples are provided for Hobart Airport through external links to data sources (storm tide probability, sea level rise, and erosion hazard).

The second example shows Port Fairy in Victoria. This is an open coast sandy shore backed by soft sediment deposits to below sea level. The shoreline exposure to waves is high. Airstrip elevation ranges between 0.8m on the eastern end to 1.3m towards the western end. Inundation from the nearby Moyne Lagoon is more likely to be of greater concern.

Key data sources for those interested in understanding more about the implications of sea-level rise for regional airfields and landing areas include Elvis - Elevation and Depth Foundation Spatial Data and the Australian Coastal Geomorphology Smartline. Please contact me if you would like some general information using the contact form below.

Flinders Island Airport, coastal erosion hazard
Port Fairy landing area, coastal erosion hazard