Located in the western Pacific Ocean, Guam is regularly exposed to typhoons that flood low-lying coastal areas. What is now a nuisance could become a serious problem due to sea level rise.

Earth.Org takes a closer look.

Guam features a mountainous topography, with its population concentrated on the lower-lying coastal areas. It is the nearest landmass to the Mariana Trench, deepest point of the ocean and at the intersection of two tectonic plates, making the area prone to earthquakes. Guam is therefore exposed to earthquake-provoked tsunamis along with Pacific typhoons year round. 

Since a particularly devastating typhoon in 1976, wooden buildings and infrastructure have been replaced with concrete and steel, but a 2002 super typhoon still wreaked havoc on Guam. Flash floods also ail the island, but the temporary gridlock these cause can be weathered. However, they will become more frequent with sea level rise and cause costly damage to infrastructure and homes. Guam officials would be wise to commission a risk assessment and implement flood control measures to mitigate the impacts.

Earth.Org has mapped extreme flooding in Guam by 2100 to illustrate the need for action. 

sea level rise by 2100 guam

Sea level rise projections by 2100 for two scenarios with the amount of rise in meters indicated (mild = 1m; extreme = 3m). Population displacement indicated bottom right.


Global mean sea level is projected to rise by 2m at the end of this century. However, in order to determine local sea level rise (SLR), one has to take into account local coastal flood levels which could be 2.8m above Mean Higher-High Water (MHHW) at extreme forecasts. These local levels bring variability to the projected SLR from 1m to 6.5m (eg. Rio vs Kolkata).

The SLR scenarios used in this study are based on the forecasts from Climate Central – Coastal Risk Screening Tool  with the following parameters:

Sea level Projection Source

From two highly cited journals by Kopp et al., estimating SLR mainly due to ocean thermal expansion and ice melt. The mid-range scenario projected 0.5-1.2m of SLR based on different representative concentration pathways (RCP) defined by the IPCC. While the pessimistic scenario added more mechanisms of ice-sheet melting, estimating SLR at 1m-2.5m in 2100, with a projection of 10m SLR at 2300.

Coastal Flooding

More frequent coastal flooding is a direct impact of sea-level rise. Based on the Global tides and surge reanalysis by Muis et al., (2016), it is estimated that the extreme coastal water level could be from 0.2 – 2.8m over the mean level. While in extreme cases like China and the Netherlands it could experience 5-10m of extreme sea levels. Here, the coastal local flood level is added on top of the projected SLR.

Pollution Scenario

Allows choosing the RCP, the greenhouse gas concentration trajectory defined by the IPCC.  The mild level is based on RCP4.5, of 2°C temperature rise; while the Extreme level is based on RCP 8.5, of 4°C temperature rise.


Applies to the baseline SLR, defined in the “Sea level projection” section, upon which we add flooding. “Mild” refers to the mid-range scenario of 0.5-1.2m, and “extreme” to the pessimistic scenario of 1-2.5m. We used the high-end value of each scenario (mild = 1m; extreme = 2.5m).

Mapping and methodology by Braundt Lau. Article written by Wing Ki Leung and Owen Mulhern.

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