Impacts—Coastal Hazards

Summary: Extreme weather events have significant impacts on coastal environments, and scientists look for patterns to determine how climate change is affecting the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Storm surges, high winds, and heavy precipitation can alter coastal physical environments, affect water quality, and result in coastal habitat loss. In this topic guide, students examine coastal water quality data collected around storm events, and predict the impacts of extreme weather events on coastal ecosystems.

Concepts to teach:


  1. Precipitation from intense coastal storms affects water quality in estuaries
  2. Sea level rise contributes to the coastal flooding and erosion seen with extreme storm events
  3. Extreme weather events can lead to loss of coastal habitat
  4. Understanding the effects of extreme weather events on coastal ecosystems can help scientists better predict climate change impacts

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • HS-LS2-6. Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Predict how major storm events affect NERRS reserves in the U.S.
  2. Investigate and interpret changes in water quality in an estuary due to a severe weather event.
  3. Determine the relationship between the characteristics of an extreme weather event (heavy wind, torrential rains and storm surge) and the subsequent change in water quality over time.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • See The New Waterfront topic guide
  • Readings:
    • The Oregon Climate Change Adaptation Framework, 2010—Assessment of Likely risks associated with climate change, and short-term Action Items for addressing these risks
      • Coastal erosion and flooding (p. 44-48)
      • Change in species distribution (p. 49-54)
      • Loss of wetland ecosystems (p. 62-69)
  • Activity: NOAA Estuaries—Earth Science Module Activity 4: Extreme Weather and Estuaries. This three-part lesson plan focuses on how hurricanes affect estuaries, and begins with a focus on a National Estuarine Research Reserve in North Carolina. Similarly, how might winter storms affect estuaries in the Pacific Northwest affect estuaries? Includes teacher guide and student worksheets.
    • Extension: Use System Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) data from the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve to explore the effect winter storms have on that estuary system. What parameters would be most helpful to target?
  • Online activity: How do storms affect coastlines? Online activity exploring coastal changes using examples from hurricanes and El Niño events


  • REPORT: Assign each student or group of students a community on the Oregon coast. Students identify how an extreme weather event has in the past impacted that community. How is climate change predicted to affect future extreme weather events and their impacts in this community? Potential impacts may affect natural ecosystems, human activities, or both.