Sea Level Rise Maps: How Individual Differences Complicate the Cartographic Communication of an Uncertain Climate Change Hazard

David P Retchless


Interactive, online maps of sea level rise have great potential for communicating climate change, as evidenced by both their popularity and likely ability to combat discounting of climate change hazards. However, little is known about how different audiences will interpret the significant uncertainties—including those related to the amount, timing, and spatial coverage of sea level rise flooding—communicated on many of these maps. A review of the risk perception literature presents three situations where different aspects of uncertainty have been suggested to dictate (or at least strongly encourage) adaptive or mitigative action in the context of sea level rise or similarly uncertain hazards, then problematizes these accounts by showing how context and personal differences mediate (and in some cases reverse) these expected relationships. A final section offers preliminary reflections on the implications for the cartographic communication of climate change and sea level rise uncertainty.


sea level rise; uncertainty; individual differences; climate change; interactive online map

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