Cardiff University | Prifysgol Caerdydd ORCA
Online Research @ Cardiff 
WelshClear Cookie - decide language by browser settings

Mental models of sea-level change: A mixed methods analysis on the Severn Estuary, UK

Thomas, Merryn ORCID:, Pidgeon, Nick ORCID:, Whitmarsh, Lorraine ORCID: and Ballinger, Rhoda ORCID: 2015. Mental models of sea-level change: A mixed methods analysis on the Severn Estuary, UK. Global Environmental Change 33 , pp. 71-82. 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.04.009

[thumbnail of Thomas et al 2015_ Mental models of sea-level change.pdf]
PDF - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (831kB) | Preview


Global average sea levels are expected to rise by up to a metre by the end of the century. This long-term rise will combine with shorter-term changes in sea level (e.g. high tides, storm surges) to increase risks of flooding and erosion in vulnerable coastal areas. As communities become increasingly exposed to these risks, understanding their beliefs and responses becomes more important. While studies have explored public responses to climate change, less research has focused on perceptions of the specific risks associated with sea-level change. This paper presents the results of a mental models study that addressed this knowledge gap by exploring expert and public perceptions of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary, a threatened coastal environment in the southwest of the United Kingdom. A model was developed from the literature and expert interviews (N = 11), and compared with public perceptions elicited via interviews (N = 20) and a quantitative survey (N = 359). Whilst we find a high degree of consistency between expert and public understandings, there are important differences that have implications for how sea level risks are interpreted and for what are perceived as appropriate mitigation and adaptation practices. We also find a number of potential barriers to engaging with the issue: individuals express low concern about sea-level change in relation to other matters; they feel detached from the issue, seeing it as something that will happen in future to other people; and many perceive that neither the causes of nor responses to sea-level change are their responsibility. We point to areas upon which future risk communications should therefore concentrate.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Water Research Institute (WATER)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GC Oceanography
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sea-level rise; Sea-level change; Public perceptions; Public understanding; Mental models
Additional Information: This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0959-3780
Funders: Cardiff University President's Research Scholarship
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Date of Acceptance: 26 April 2015
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2023 07:28

Citation Data

Cited 34 times in Scopus. View in Scopus. Powered By Scopus® Data

Actions (repository staff only)

Edit Item Edit Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics