Hidden Threat: The Influence of Sea-Level Rise on Coastal Groundwater and the Convergence of Impacts on Municipal Infrastructure

Ann Rev Mar Sci. 2024 Jan 17:16:81-103. doi: 10.1146/annurev-marine-020923-120737. Epub 2023 Aug 4.


Sea-level rise (SLR) is influencing coastal groundwater by both elevating the water table and shifting salinity profiles landward, making the subsurface increasingly corrosive. Low-lying coastal municipalities worldwide (potentially 1,546, according to preliminary analysis) are vulnerable to an array of impacts spurred by these phenomena, which can occur decades before SLR-induced surface inundation. Damage is accumulating across a variety of infrastructure networks that extend partially and fully beneath the ground surface. Because the resulting damage is largely concealed and imperceptible, it is largely overlooked as part of infrastructure management and planning. Here, we provide an overview of SLR-influenced coastal groundwater and related processes that have the potential to damage societally critical infrastructure and mobilize urban contamination. In an effort to promote research efforts that can inform effective adaptation and management, we discuss various impacts to critical infrastructure and propose actions based on literature focused specifically on SLR-influenced coastal groundwater.

Keywords: coastal groundwater; groundwater inundation; infrastructure impacts; saline groundwater; sea-level rise; shallow water table.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Groundwater*
  • Salinity
  • Sea Level Rise*