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Could Future Land Use Changes Increase Storm Surge Flooding?

Scientists funded by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science have found that projected changes in coastal Gulf of Mexico land use and land cover could increase the extent of storm surge flooding by up to 70 percent above flooding from projected sea level rise alone.

Using a newly developed predictive model, the University of Central Florida team examined the interaction of land use and land cover, sea level rise scenarios, and topography on storm surge from Hurricane Katrina for past (1960), present (2005), and future (2050) conditions. Land use and land cover changes, particularly increased urbanization, exacerbated storm surge flooding. Conversely, changes in coastal topography had mixed effects, ranging from an 80 percent increase in flooding over projected sea level rise in some regions to more than a 100 percent decrease in other regions. For example, alterations in barrier islands, which line much of the Gulf of Mexico coast, did not reduce the extent of flooding, but did influence where flooding occurred. These results highlight the variety of factors that create the non-linear, dynamic response of coastal regions to sea level rise and storm surge.

The study was published in the Jan. 14, 2014 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

For additional information, contact David.Kidwell@noaa.gov.

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