Improving Predictions of Estuarine Flooding and Circulation during Storms

This project will address the problem of storm-driven circulation and flooding in estuaries. Our motivation is the recent Hurricane Florence (2018), which pushed surge and mixed saline waters into the estuaries of North Carolina (NC). There are remaining questions about how storm surge can interact with winds, riverine flows, and friction in estuarine systems, as well as how stratification is removed during and then re-established after storms.

The research plan will have two components. First, the existing modeling system will be enhanced for the NC estuaries, and numerical experiments will explore the sensitivities of estuarine flooding to the main drivers during storms. By varying systematically the atmospheric forcing, bottom friction, incoming river flows, and other parameters, we will improve our understanding of how storm surge is developed in these regions. Second, the modeling system will be extended to consider density-driven circulation and salinity transport, by leveraging earlier work for estuarine circulation in the northern Gulf. It is known that horizontal salinity transport during storms can threaten marine life and vegetation, but there is not currently a modeling system that can predict both transport and overland flooding. This project will combine those processes and explore questions about stratification during storms. While these interactions are important in estuaries along the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts, they are especially important for the NC estuaries and their nearby communities, which have been devastated by storms in recent years.

The project will also have an extensive education component. Via collaboration with the Coastal Studies Institute, we will develop and implement lesson plans for storm surge and coastal flooding. It is expected that this new program will engage with more than 300 students in northeastern NC. The research team is well-positioned to contribute to these outreach activities, thus benefiting coastal communities in NC.

JC Dietrich, RJ McCord. “Improving Predictions of Estuarine Flooding and Circulation during Storms.” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, North Carolina Sea Grant, 2020/02/01 to 2022/01/31, $119,370 (Dietrich: $99,610).

News: CCHT Leads a Core Research Project for NC Sea Grant

2020/01/17 – NC Sea Grant News
NC Sea Grant Announces 2020–2022 Core Research Projects

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North Carolina Sea Grant’s core research projects for 2020 to 2022 will apply innovative approaches to coastal issues. Research teams across the state are starting new studies on coastal resilience, climate change, flooding, shellfish and aquaculture, environmental literacy and more.

“Our core research examines real-world needs of our coastal communities and ecosystems,” says Susan White, executive director of North Carolina Sea Grant. “We are pleased to have so many multidisciplinary collaborations that address our program’s strategic focus areas.”