Coupling of Deterministic and Probabilistic Models for Prediction of Storm-Driven Erosion on Barrier Islands

Coastal areas are subjected to storms and subsequent erosion and flooding. Waves and storm surge can cause damage to infrastructure and short- and long-term changes to coastal morphology. These morphodynamic changes can range from mild beach erosion to severe dune removal, overwash, and breaching. In this dissertation, a combination of models are used to explore the storm-driven hydro- and morphodynamic processes on different scales and their interactions over time. Additionally, their application is extended for prediction of beach response to sea-storms by coupling deterministic and probabilistic models.

In this dissertation, first a morphodynamic model is used to explore the effects of Isabel (2003) on the NC Outer Banks, with the focus on a large domain that covers 30 km of the barrier island from Rodanthe to Avon. It is hypothesized that the model can be coarsened and expanded to a large domain while preserving accuracy. Model predictions for dune erosion and overwash are in good agreement with post-storm observations. Sensitivity studies show that the model accuracy is less sensitive to the alongshore resolution of the mesh. Then, the topographic elevation changes are upscaled to a region-scale flooding model to allow overwash and inundation behind the dunes. The loose coupling of these process-based models improves the flooding predictions in region-scale model significantly.

Then, a more complex case of beaching and its impacts on larger-scale circulations are explored. Isabel (2003) breached the barrier island near the town of Hatteras and formed three channels connecting the ocean to the sound. Two-way coupling of high-resolution numerical models for coastal erosion and flooding is implemented to study the temporal and spatial evolution of the breach and its contribution to the hydrodynamics in the sound. It is hypothesized that the channels were formed due to the combined effects of ocean-side dune erosion and lagoon-side elevated water levels. The model shows that the flow from the sound to the ocean has an important role in deepening the breached channels. The morphodynamic model can predict the initiation and approximate location of the breach. However, it failed to accurately capture the channels’ depths. Several flooding scenarios are considered to implement the ground surface changes in the flooding model. The evolving breach can affect the timing and extent of flow into the lagoon. The model results show that the breach has region-scale effects on flooding that extend about 10 km into the lagoon.

Finally, the erosion of nourished beaches subjected to multiple storms is investigated. Beach nourishment provides a buffer during extreme events in the short-termbut has a finite lifespan as the beach responds to subsequent storms. Numerical models are widely used to predict the beach morphodynamics, however, they are computationally expensive. In this research, a surrogate model is developed by coupling deterministic and probabilistic models to improve the computational efficiency and to include the randomness of possible future scenarios. A large data set of storm data and beach profiles is used to create a library of thousands of hypothetical scenarios to train the surrogate model. It is hypothesized that adding the beach profile variability in the analysis can improve the model in the sense that it can be applied to any beach state. The results show that predicted erosion volume by the surrogate model is very close to the numerical model predictions. The model produced the results in a few seconds which shows a significant improvement in computational time compared to numerical models.

This research has the potential to improve the prediction of storm-driven erosion, overwash, inundation and breaching. The loose coupling of hydro- and morphodynamic models allows for better predictions of storm-driven flooding into previously protected areas, such as coastal communities and back-barrier regions. The use of observed beach profiles in the development of a surrogate model can improve its predictions of nourishment response to single and successive storms. These better predictions can enable better planning and design for mitigation of future hazards.

A Gharagozlou (2021). “Coupling of Deterministic and Probabilistic Models for Prediction of Storm-Driven Erosion on Barrier Islands,” North Carolina State University.

Alireza Gharagozlou defends PhD Dissertation

We gathered again for a successful defense! Alireza Gharagozlou defended his PhD dissertation to a mix of virtual and in-person attendees, who asked a lot of great questions about his research in modeling of storm-driven erosion in the Outer Banks. Congrats to Alireza!

Alireza starts his oral defense presentation.

Storm-Driven Erosion and Inundation of Barrier Islands from Dune- to Region-Scales

Barrier islands are susceptible to erosion, overwash, and breaching during intense storms. However, these processes are not represented typically in large-domain models for storm surge and coastal inundation. In this study, we explore the requirements for bridging the gap between dune-scale morphodynamic and region-scale flooding models. A high-resolution XBeach model is developed to represent the morphodynamics during Hurricane Isabel (2003) in the North Carolina (NC) Outer Banks. The model domain is extended to more than 30 km of Hatteras Island and is thus larger than in previous studies. The predicted dune erosion is in good agreement with post-storm observed topography, and an ‘‘excellent’’ Skill Score of 0.59 is obtained on this large domain. Sensitivity studies show the morphodynamic model accuracy is decreased as the mesh spacing is coarsened in the cross-shore direction, but the results are less sensitive to the alongshore resolution. A new metric to assess model skill, Water Overpassing Area (WOA), is introduced to account for the available flow pathway over the dune crest. Together, these findings allow for upscaled parameterizations of erosion in larger-domain models. The updated topography, obtained from XBeach prediction, is applied in a region-scale flooding model, thus allowing for enhanced flooding predictions in communities along the Outer Banks. It is found that, even using a fixed topography in region-scale model, the flooding predictions are improved significantly when post-storm topography from XBeach is implemented. These findings can be generalized to similar barrier island systems, which are common along the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

A Gharagozlou, JC Dietrich, A Karanci, RA Luettich, MF Overton (2020). “Storm-driven erosion and inundation of barrier islands from dune- to region-scales.” Coastal Engineering, 158, 103674, DOI: 10.1016/j.coastaleng.2020.103674

Seminar: UNC Wilmington

News: Connecting Erosion to Flooding

2019/09/26 – NC Sea Grant Coastwatch
XBeach Model Predicts Storm Impacts on Beaches and Dunes

Alireza Gharagozlou (below) is a doctoral student in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at NC State University. He studies how to connect predictions of beach and dune erosion to community-wide flooding and serves with Casey Dietrich on NC State’s Coastal & Computational Hydraulics Team. North Carolina Sea Grant has supported their work.

Alireza surveying the beach profile near Hatteras, NC, with RTK-GPS after Hurricane Florence.

2019/04/26 – NC Sea Grant Coastwatch Currents
Model Predicts Storm Impacts on Beaches and Dunes


During storms, strong waves and currents can erode beaches and dunes and create low-lying areas vulnerable to flooding. We use field surveys and a computer model called XBeach to predict this erosion, as well as to understand its interactions with storm-driven flooding of larger regions.

Computer models allow us to see how the storm surge and waves impact the beach over time, and which locations are vulnerable to large-scale damage. Good predictions of such storm impacts help emergency managers take better-informed measures to protect coastal areas. Understanding vulnerabilities also instructs highway access design and residential area planning.

We used the XBeach computer model on more than 30 kilometers of Hatteras Island between Avon and Rodanthe to explore how to connect erosion predictions to larger areas. Could XBeach cover more of the island, yet still provide good erosion predictions at beach and dune scales? And how could we connect erosion predictions to other models for storm surge and flooding?