The world’s largest deltas are densely populated, of significant economic importance and among the most valuable coastal ecosystems. Projected twenty-first century sea-level rise (SLR) poses a threat to these low-lying coastal environments with inhabitants, resources and ecology becoming increasingly vulnerable to flooding. Large spatial differences exist in the parameters shaping the world’s deltas with respect to river discharge, tides and waves, substrate and sediment cohesion, sea-level rise, and human engineering. Here, we use a numerical flow and transport model to: (1) quantify the capability of different types of deltas to dynamically respond to SLR; and (2) evaluate the resultant coastal impact by assessing delta flooding, shoreline recession and coastal habitat changes. We show three different delta forcing experiments representative of many natural deltas: (1) river flow only; (2) river flow and waves; and (3) river flow and tides. We find that delta submergence, shoreline recession and changes in habitat are not dependent on the applied combination of river flow, waves and tides but are rather controlled by SLR. This implies that regional differences in SLR determine delta coastal impacts globally, potentially mitigated by sediment composition and ecosystem buffering. This process-based approach of modelling future deltaic change provides the first set of quantitative predictions of dynamic morphologic change for inclusion in Climate and Earth System Models while also informing local management of deltaic areas across the globe.
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