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


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.”

Subgrid Theory for Storm Surge Modelling

Averaging techniques are used to generate upscaled forms of the shallow water equations for storm surge including subgrid corrections. These systems are structurally similar to the standard shallow water equations but have additional terms related to integral properties of the fine-scale bathymetry, topography, and flow. As the system only operates with coarse-scale variables (such as averaged fluid velocity) relating to flow, these fine-scale integrals require closures to relate them to the coarsened variables. Closures with different levels of complexity are identified and tested for accuracy against high resolution solutions of the standard shallow water equations. Results show that, for coarse grids in complex geometries, inclusion of subgrid closure terms greatly improves model accuracy when compared to standard solutions, and will thereby enable new classes of storm surge models.

AB Kennedy, D Wirasaet, A Begmohammadi, T Sherman, D Bolster, JC Dietrich (2019). “Subgrid Theory for Storm Surge Modelling.” Ocean Modelling, 144, 101491, DOI: 10.1016/ocemod.2019.101491.

Seminar: UNC Wilmington

Posters: ASBPA Coastal Conference 2019

CA Rucker, N Tull, JC Dietrich, R Luettich, R Cyriac. “Improving the accuracy of a real-time ADCIRC storm surge downscaling model.ASBPA 2019 National Coastal Conference, Myrtle Beach SC, 23 October 2019.

Improving the accuracy of a real-time ADCIRC storm surge downscaling model.

JL Woodruff, JC Dietrich, AB Kennedy, D Wirasaet, D Bolster, Z Silver, RL Kolar. “Improving predictions of coastal flooding via sub-mesh corrections.ASBPA 2019 National Coastal Conference, Myrtle Beach SC, 23 October 2019.

Improving predictions of coastal flooding via sub-mesh corrections.

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Sustainability of Barrier Island Protection Policies under Changing Climates

This project will address methods to adapt beach and dune nourishment to improve resilience in a changing climate. As storms become more powerful and seas continue to rise, major erosion events will occur more frequently. However, coastal communities do not yet understand how to evaluate their increasing vulnerabilities and adapt their long-term planning. In this project, we will identify the climate patterns that most often trigger the need to nourish, the variability of the time interval between such nourishments, and the economic costs and sediment volumes necessary to maintain this coastal protection policy into the 21st century.

A stochastic climate emulator will first be developed to simulate 1000s of realizations of chronological climate patterns (forced by satellite and GCM products) to create future storm events coupled with sea level rise scenarios. A library of high fidelity, open source, hydrodynamic and morphodynamic simulations (ADCIRC+SWAN and XBeach) will then be used to develop a surrogate model to predict erosion and flooding for each future realization. Triggers like beach width, dune height, and community preferences will be used to identify how often communities will need to re-nourish, contingent on future climate and sea level rise scenario.

JC Dietrich, DL Anderson. “Sustainability of Barrier Island Protection Policies under Changing Climates.” U.S. Coastal Research Program, 2019 Academic Research Opportunities, 2019/10/18 to 2021/10/17, $226,624 (Dietrich: $226,624).