Rising Seas

Education Modules > Module 3 > High School > Rising Seas > Planning

Planning—Shoreline Structure

Summary: How do different types of shoreline react to flooding and sea level rise? In this topic guide, students learn about various "hard" and "soft" features of coastal shorelines, the role wetlands play to control flooding, and some engineering solutions for absorbing wave energy that could lead to coastal erosion. As a field experience, students examine characteristics of a shoreline and predict its resiliency to sea level rise. Finally, students are challenging to identify resilient engineering solutions that could be applied to shoreline structures.

Concepts to teach:

  • Crosscutting Concepts
    • Cause and Effect, Structure and Function
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas
    • ESS2.C - The roles of water in Earth's surface processes
    • ESS3.A - Natural resources
    • ESS3.B - Natural hazards
  • Science Practices
    • Planning and carrying out investigations, Constructing explanations and designing solutions


  1. Shoreline features vary in different places along coastlines, and are differentially impacted by sea level rise and storm surges.
  2. Soft shorelines absorb wave energy and water, and hard shorelines reflect or redirect wave energy and water.
  3. Coastal wetlands can help protect communities from damaging sea level rise and storm surges.
  4. Engineered shorelines can positively or negatively affect coastal resiliency.

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • HS-ESS2-5. Plan and conduct an investigation of the properties of water and its effects on Earth materials and surface processes.
  • HS-ESS3-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Read and create maps to describe the shoreline features of a coastal area.
  2. Describe how different shoreline structures might respond to flooding and sea level rise.
  3. Identify the ecological services wetlands provide to control flooding and erosion.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Activity: Shoreline Survey field experience—Look at National ESI Shoreline database maps for a study site. Visit the site with students to survey and map hard and soft features of the coastal shoreline and compare it to the ESI maps. Based on the shoreline structures, ask students to forecast the impacts that rising sea level might have on the area.
    • National ESI Shoreline (Environmental Sensitivity Index) maps
    • Example Field Experience at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR
      • National ESI Shoreline screenshot for Yaquina Bay
      • Hatfield Marine Science Center Nature Trail mapping worksheet—Walk the HMSC Estuary Nature Trail and draw on the map different symbols and colors to indicate shoreline features. Create a key to the symbols and colors
      • Example of a completed map
  • Activity: Wetlands and their ecological services—in this Lesson 1.3 of the Bringing Wetlands to Market curriculum, students learn about the different types of wetlands and their ecological roles, and they identify one or more local wetlands.
  • The role of wetlands in coastal flooding
    • RISE Webstory 5: The Flood Next Time—Video (5:40) Converting salt ponds back to original wetlands could help a small community near San Francisco survive flooding from sea level rise
  • Reading
    • Shoreline Armoring: Pros and Cons—From NOAA's State of the Coast website
    • Living Shorelines—This NOAA website shows how natural bank stabilization techniques are implemented to restore shorelines.
    • Coastal habitats shield people and property from sea level rise and storms
    • Komar, P.D. and Allan, J.C., 2010. USGS article "Design with Nature" strategies for shore protection --The construction of a cobble berm and artificial berm and artificial dune in an Oregon State Park


  • Map the hard and soft shoreline features of a coastal area. How many different shoreline types are there? Which features are natural and which are human-made? Is there evidence of existing coastal erosion or flooding?
  • Share survey findings with local land managers.