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What will storm surge look like in the future?

By: Renee Collini / Published: Jul 27,  2018

An exciting new storymap has been released that shows what storm surge will look like in the northern Gulf of Mexico as sea levels rise.

Storm surge and sea-level rise

The coastal zone is a very dynamic place, with many ongoing processes, such as tides and waves, shaping our shores. As sea levels rise, these processes will interact with the new sea levels, reshaping the coast. This occurs through biological and physical mechanisms, such as changes in marsh health or erosion.

As the coastline responds to sea-level rise, these changes impact the depth and footprint of future hurricane storm surge (Figure 1). As seas rise, because of the dynamic nature of the shoreline, understanding future storm surge is not simply adding the increase in water level to surge depth. The changes in the shoreline can change how and where surge moves over the coast. For example, as you see in Figure 1, even though there has only been a slight increase in sea level, the shoreline has changed in a way that dramatically increases the vulnerability of the coastal infrastructure.

Image from Passeri, D. L. et al. (2015). The dynamic effects of sea level rise on low-gradient coastal landscapes: A review. Earth's Future, 3(6), 159-181. Click image for link to original.
Image from Passeri, D. L. et al. (2015). The dynamic effects of sea level rise on low-gradient coastal landscapes: A review. Earth's Future, 3(6), 159-181. Click image for link to original.

Research led by Dr. Scott Hagen at Louisiana State University, now allows us to visualize how storm surge will differ with sea-level rise. This project used a system-of-systems modeling approach, complexing these processes together to understand how our coasts will be impacted and how that will affect storm surge. The new storymap is a resource to explore and download the results of this project.

Using the storymap for resilience

You can view potential conditions for your community by visiting www.gomsurge.org. There you will be able to learn a bit more about the research, view surge from Hurricane Katrina and Dennis with differing amounts of sea-level rise and look at future 100-year floodplains under two different sea-level rise scenarios.

You can simply enter in the community you’re interested in, and the map zooms there. Additionally, you can download even more data, so you can use them directly!

Knowing what storm surge may look like in the future helps us build strong and prepared communities. This information can be utilized when making a wide variety of decisions, from modifying homes to updating building codes to considering flood insurance to rezoning. None of these decisions should be made solely based on sea-level rise and surge, but this allows future surge to be part of the conversation, improving community resilience.

Next steps

I am currently working to raise awareness and build capacity for utilizing the storymap to its full potential. If you’re interested in learning more about the storymap check it out at www.gomsurge.org. If you want to keep up with any trainings or webinars for the storymap or about sea-level rise in the northern Gulf in general – follow us on Twitter or check out our webpage.

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