Environmental Justice Issues and Sea Level Rise in Frontline Communities Along the Gulf Coast

Karla Michel Lopez, University of Texas at El Paso


Sea level rise poses a great threat to coastal areas and our way of life. As flooding increases in frequency and intensity across the country, vulnerable populations become a target to its impacts. The U.S. dedicates much research to risk communication and climate change adaptation strategies; however, these coastal areas are home to a large percentage of underserved and underrepresented communities that can be challenging to meaningfully engage. The impacts of short-term sea level rise combined with long-term sea level rise will not only cause flooding, erosion, and intrusion of saltwater into freshwater resources but also increased financial consequences, such as higher poverty levels that damage livelihoods, infrastructure, and coastal resources. There is a growing need to better understand how to effectively serve and communicate with these stakeholders and develop culturally relevant and targeted resources to reach out to underserved communities. This study establishes a reliable and timely method to identify underserved communities suffering from the coastline change at large spatial scales by using remote sensing tools. The city of Biloxi, Mississippi was a pilot for this study where sea water levels were obtained to demonstrate the changes in sea levels throughout the past years and how they have impacted underserved populations. These data, combined with U.S Census Bureau data were used to create a Sea Level Rise (SLR) Index showing the demographics of the place and the environmental risk of flooding. This index can be used as an indicator for environmental justice along coastal zones. These maps along with the SLR Index can be used as a tool to engage with stakeholders and community organizations to educate and empower communities, promote environmental justice, and contribute to the development of successful adaptation responses that integrate scientific science and people’s needs and opinions to achieve meaningful engagement and increased resilience of frontline communities.

Subject Area

Environmental engineering|Environmental Justice|Social studies education

Recommended Citation

Lopez, Karla Michel, "Environmental Justice Issues and Sea Level Rise in Frontline Communities Along the Gulf Coast" (2021). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI28963924.