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Visualisation to simplify decisions on managed realignment

Around 60-70% of the world’s major cities lie only a few metres above sea level and, because the warmer climate is causing glaciers and inland ice to melt, the water level is rising. More research is being conducted into this area and the term managed retreat or managed realignment (MR) is being discussed more frequently, yet Swedish municipalities are still not planning adequately for change. Instead, residential buildings continue to be built along the water and demand for a sea view remains high. RISE, SMHI, Linköping University and the Swedish Geotechnical Institute (SGI) are currently conducting the research project CAMEL, which is investigating the possibility of managed realignment as a strategy for climate adaptation and how visualisation can simplify decisions for municipalities.

Most of Sweden’s communities are located along the water, and a large proportion of Sweden’s population lives near coasts or waterways. However, when sea levels rise and waterways expand, some vulnerable areas will become submerged. The increasing frequency of recurring, heavy rainfall may make many places and societal functions vulnerable to flooding, subsidence, erosion and landslides. Managed realignment involves adapting society to a changed coastline and shoreline caused by climate change through the long-term relocation of buildings, roads and infrastructure to a suitable area and allowing the water to reclaim the land.

Southern Sweden hardest hit

Southern Sweden and its coastal areas are. by far, at the greatest risk of major sea level increases.

“When the sea level rises, the shoreline changes and the water reaches further inland,” says Nina Lemon, Interaction Designer at RISE. “Moreover, winds will become stronger and waves will be higher. But it is not only the coasts that will be affected, smaller inland waterways will surge as well. The Skåne region will be hardest hit with an estimated sea level rise of around 70 centimetres by the year 2100.”

Despite increased research into and knowledge of rising sea levels, large-scale construction of homes and buildings is still planned close to the water.

“Many people want to live close to water and demand is high. Construction processes are also lengthy and expensive. To avoid the issue of managed realignment, buildings are designed to allow the ground floor to be flooded without further risk. For example, laundry facilities are built on the ground floor while apartments occupy the second floor and upwards,” says Lemon. 

We need more knowledge of the risks and opportunities

Visualisation facilitates long-term, sustainable decisions

The three-year research project CAMEL (Climate Adaptation by Managed Realignment) is investigating how managed realignment and societal adaptation to a changed coast and shoreline can serve as a potential climate adaptation strategy, and how society can overcome the obstacles using visualisation and facilitate long-term, sustainable urban planning decisions. RISE is responsible for visualising data, forecasts and models of society and landscapes developed by SGI and SMHI.

“The project includes municipalities from different hydrological and oceanographic regions, such as Trelleborg, Halmstad, Öckerö and Karlstad. Municipal politicians, city planners, architects, marine biologists, and other local stakeholders from each municipality participated in the workshops. We wanted to understand how the municipalities work today and how familiar they are with managed realignment. It became clear that the degree of knowledge is rather low and depends on, among other things, qualifications and roles,” explains Lemon.

Drawings show new sea levels

Based on data from SMHI and SGI and insights gained through the workshops, RISE has produced drawings which depict the new sea levels and their impact on municipalities’ plans. The drawings show map views that are easy to understand, but Nina Lemon also hopes to clarify what the changes to sea levels will entail by means of numbers:

“By using numbers to show the water’s impact, municipal decision-makers obtain a better basis for decisions. For example, it could involve specifying the size of the area that will be affected, the length of road sections, the number of roads and buildings, and so on.”

Although the numbers are based on forecasts and therefore not precise, Lemon considers them to be a good starting point from which to work and discuss potential risks.

Managed realignment rarely completed

Only a few managed realignment projects have been completed worldwide. One such – and probably the largest – is the relocation of Soldiers Grove in Wisconsin, USA. After the Kickapoo River flooded on numerous occasions, the entire town was moved to higher ground in the late ‘70s. The UK has also completed a few managed realignment projects, primarily to make room for rising sea waters in a controlled manner.

Many areas are at risk of being completely submerged below sea level. One is Indonesia’s capital Jakarta with a population of 10 million, which risks becoming completely submerged by 2050.

“In Sweden we don’t have such major and acute problems yet, but planing for managed realignment takes time. We need more knowledge of the risks and opportunities and must ensure that municipal plans can cope with the rising sea levels,” concludes Lemon.

Published: 2020-01-27