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NCCOS Research Project

Predicting Impacts of Sea Level Rise in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Primary Contact(s): david.kidwell@noaa.gov
This project began in January 2010 and is projected to be completed in August 2017

We are assessing the impacts of sea level rise and coastal storms on marshes and oyster habitats in the northern Gulf of Mexico through the development of predictive models that coastal zone managers may use for long-term planning. This large-scale research study includes the panhandle of Florida, coastal Alabama, and coastal Mississippi, and the tools developed will provide enhanced certainty in scale and local detail.

Why We Care
The northern Gulf of Mexico coast benefits economically from a wealth of natural resources that depend on healthy coastal ecosystems. However, these ecosystems face a number of threats, including sea level rise and hurricanes. The impacts of sea level rise could be dramatic. Low-lying coastal areas are expected to experience:

  • increased levels of flooding,
  • accelerated erosion,
  • loss of wetlands and low-lying terrestrial ecosystems, and
  • seawater intrusion into freshwater sources.

Rising sea level and erosion will also imperil critical habitats for many commercially important fisheries that depend on inshore waters for either permanent residence or nursery area.

Coastal management agencies struggle to balance the pressures of coastal development with the conservation and protection of the coastal environment. Increased hurricane activity and rising sea levels already threaten shoreline habitats, as well as productive wetlands that are prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico. Tools that provide predictive capabilities will enable smart management of coastal systems, improve targeting of restoration efforts, and facilitate planning.

What We Are Doing

This project will provide predictive tools to determine the impact of sea level rise on coasts and coastal habitats and will transition the resulting information to management applications. The study area includes three National Estuarine Environmental Research Reserves: Apalachicola, FL, Weeks Bay, AL, and Grand Bay, MS. Field and laboratory experiments as well as resulting ecological models will focus on these reserves, but will also apply to coastal habitats throughout the region.

The five-year project is improving and applying existing models of circulation, sediment transport, and biogeochemistry from the watershed to the sea, including waves and erosion. The ultimate prediction will be sediment loadings to the estuary as a result of overland flow, shoreline and barrier island erosion, and salinity transport in numerous bay systems, all of which will be used to model the evolution of intertidal marshes and oyster habitats. These models will make use of existing bathymetric and topographic data and related data sets. Field and laboratory experiments will provide the information needed to determine parameters for the marsh and oyster habitat models. The project is also assessing impacts in the presence of simulated and retrospective tropical storms.

To facilitate applications to the coastal management community, the project also funds a diverse management committee. This committee, consisting of federal, state, and local managers as well as conservation organizations, provides guidance to the science team on required information needs and project tool development. Prior to funding, this project was planned and approved both within NOAA and across the Gulf of Mexico (including the Gulf of Mexico Alliance) to ensure relevant science needs would be addressed.
The project team included partners from NOAA/NCCOS, Louisiana State University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of South Carolina, Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Dewberry, Inc. Collaboration and significant assistance has also been provided by NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey and NOAA’s Coastal Services Center.

Benefits of Our Work
Improving the predictive understanding of ecosystem responses to sea level rise and increasing storm surge allows coastal zone managers to more effectively assess alternative management strategies for mitigating future ecological and socioeconomic impacts of climate change. The management community will be able to:

  • prioritize risk management strategies,
  • identify restoration locations that can be sustained over the long term,
  • reformulate set-back requirements,
  • improve guidelines for construction of breakwaters and other coastal infrastructure, and
  • assess water resource impacts and protection needs.

This project will yield several useful products, including: maps that delineate new tidal boundaries as a result of sea level rise; estimates of sediment loadings from overland runoff to estuarine systems, and erosion rates; projections of changes in critical habitats (e.g., salinity distributions, marsh, beach, shellfish, submerged aquatic vegetation, land cover), and water resource impacts. These products will facilitate a comprehensive, forward-looking assessment of coastal ecosystem change in response to sea level rise that is not possible with current tools. This project is also serving as the foundation for the Gulf of Mexico Sentinel Site Cooperative (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/sentinelsites/gomex.html).

Additional Resources


Tidal Hydrodynamics and Shoreline Morphology

1. Passeri, D.L. S.C. Hagen, N.G. Plant, M.V. Bilskie, S.C. Medeiros, K. Alizad. 2016. Tidal hydrodynamics under future sea level rise and coastal morphology in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Earth’s Future.

2. Passeri, D.L., S.C. Hagen, S.C. Medeiros, M.V. Bilskie. 2015. “Impacts of historic morphology and sea level rise on tidal hydrodynamics in a microtidal estuary (Grand Bay, Mississippi).” Continental Shelf Science, doi:10.1016/j.csr.2015.08.001.

3. Passeri, D.L., S.C. Hagen, M.V. Bilskie, S.C. Medeiros. 2015. On the significance of incorporating shoreline changes for evaluating coastal hydrodynamics under sea level rise scenarios. Natural Hazards, Vol. 75 (2), pp. 1599-1617.

4. Passeri, D.L., S.C. Hagen, S.C. Medeiros, M.V. Bilskie, K. Alizad, D. Wang. 2015. The dynamic effects of sea level rise on coastal landscapes: a review. Earth’s Future.

5. Passeri, D.L., S.C. Hagen, J.L. Irish. 2014. Comparison of shoreline change rates along the South Atlantic Bight and Northern Gulf of Mexico coasts for better evaluation of future shoreline positions under sea level rise.” In: Huang, W. and Hagen S.C. (eds.), Climate Change Impacts on Surface Water Systems. Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue, No. 68, pp. 20-26.. 

Hurricane Storm Surge
6. Bilskie, M.V., S.C. Hagen, K. Alizad, S.C. Medeiros, D.L. Passeri, H.F. Needham, A. Cox. 2016. Dynamic simulation and numerical analysis of hurricane storm surge under sea level rise with geomorphologic changes along the northern Gulf of Mexico. Earth’s Future.

7. Bilskie, M.V., S.C. Hagen, S.C. Medeiros, A.T. Cox, M. Salisbury, D. Coggin. 2016. Data and numerical analysis of astronomic tides, wind-waves, and hurricane storm surge in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans 

8. Taylor, N.R., J.L. Irish, I.E. Udoh, M.V. Bilskie, S.C. Hagen. 2015. Development and Uncertainty Quantification of Hurricane Surge Response Functions for Hazard Assessment in Coastal Bays.” Natural Hazards, No. 77:2, 2015, pp. 1103-1123.
9. Huang, W., S.C. Hagen, P. Bacopoulos, F. Teng. 2014. Sea-Level Rise Impacts on Hurricane-Induced Salinity Transport in Apalachicola Bay. Journal of Coastal Research special issue: Climate impacts on surface water systems, No. 68, pp. 49-56. 2014. 

10. Bilskie, M.V., S.C. Hagen, S.C. Medeiros, D.L. Passeri. 2014. Dynamics of sea level rise and coastal flooding on a changing landscape. Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 41(3), pp. 927-934.

11. Huang, W., S.C. Hagen, P. Bacopoulos. 2014. Hydrodynamic modeling of Hurricane Dennis Impact on Estuarine Salinity Mixing and Transport in Apalachicola Bay.” Journal of Coastal Research, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 389-398

12. Bacopoulos, P., S.C. Hagen. 2014. Dynamic considerations of sea-level rise with respect to water levels and flooding in Apalachicola Bay. In: Huang, W. and Hagen S.C. (eds.), Climate Change Impacts on Surface Water Systems. Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue, No. 68, pp. 43-48. 

13. Xu, S., W. Huang. 2013. Effects of sea-level-rise on frequency analysis of 1% annual maximum water levels in the coast of Florida.  Ocean Engineering, Vol. 71, pp. 96-102. 2013. 

14. Hagen, S.C., P. Bacopoulos. 2012. Synthetic Storms Contributing to Coastal Flooding in Florida’s Big Bend Region with Application to Sea Level Rise Impact. Terrestrial, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 481-500,

Lidar, Remote Sensing, and Measuring Elevation
15. Medeiros, S.C., S.C. Hagen, J.F. Weishampel. 2015. A Random Forest Model Based on Lidar and Field Measurements for Parameterizing Surface Roughness in Coastal Modeling. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, No. 8(4), pp. 1582-1590. 

16. Medeiros, S., S.C. Hagen, J.F. Weishampel, J. Angelo. 2015. Adjusting lidar-derived digital terrain models in coastal marshes based on estimated above ground biomass density.” Remote Sensing, Vol. 7, pp. 3507-3525. 

17. Medeiros, S.C., S.C. Hagen, N. Chaouch, J.C. Feyen, M. Temimi, J.F. Weishampel, Y. Funakoshi, and R. Khanbilvardi. 2013. Assessing the performance of a northern Gulf of Mexico tidal model using satellite imagery. Remote Sensing, Vol. 5, No. 11, pp. 5662-5679. 

18. Long, T.M., J. Angelo, and J.F. Weishampel. 2011. LiDAR-derived measures of hurricane- and restoration-generated beach morphodynamics in relation to sea turtle nesting behavior. International Journal of Remote Sensing, Vol. 32, pp. 231-241,

19. Tahsin, S., S.C. Medeiros, and A. Singh. 2016. Resilience of coastal wetlands to extreme hydrologic events in Apalachicola Bay. Geophysical Research Letters. Vol. 43 doi:10.1002/2016GL069594

20. Morris, J.T., D.C. Barber, J.C. Callaway, R. Chambers, S.C.  Hagen, C.S. Hopkinson, B.J. Johnson, P. Megonigal, S.C. Neubauer, T. Troxler, C. Wigand. 2016. Contributions of organic and inorganic matter to sediment volume and accretion in tidal wetlands at steady state. Earth’s Future. 

21. Alizad, K., S.C. Hagen, J.T. Morris, P. Bacopoulos, M.V. Bilskie, & J.F. Weishampel. 2016. A coupled, two-dimensional hydrodynamic-marsh model with biological feedback. Ecological Modeling 327, pp 29-43.

22. Hagen, S.C., J.T. Morris, P. Bacopoulos, J. Weishampel. 2013. Sea-Level Rise Impact on a Salt Marsh System of the Lower St. Johns River.” ASCE Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal, and Ocean Engineering. 139 (2) pp 118-125. 

Oysters and Turtles
23. Huang, W., S. C. Hagen, P. Bacopoulos, D. Wang. 2015. Hydrodynamic modeling and analysis of sea-level rise impacts on salinity for oyster growth in Apalachicola Bay, Florida.” Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, Vol 30 (2) pp. 389-398. 

24. Solomon, J., M. Donnelly, L. Walters. 2014. Effects of Sea level Rise on the Intertidal Oyster Crassostrea virginica. Journal of Coastal Research special issue: Climate impacts on surface water systems, Journal of Coastal Research, No. 68, pp 57-64. 

25. Huang, W., S.C. Hagen, P. Bacopoulos. 2014. Modeling and analysis of sea-level-rise impacts on Apalachicola Bay. Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Science, Vol. 156 pp. 7-18. 2014. 

26. Reece, J.S., D. Passeri, L. Ehrhart, S.C. Hagen, A. Hays, C. Long., R.F. Noss, M. Bilskie, C. Sanchez, M.V. Schwoerer, B. Von Holle, J. Weishampel, S. Wolf. 2013. Sea level rise, land use, and climate change influence the distribution of loggerhead turtle nests at the largest USA rookery (Melbourne Beach, Florida). Marine Ecology Progress Series, Vol. 493, pp. 259-274, 

Other Climate Change Related Assessments
27. Hovenga, P.A., D. Wang, S.C. Medeiros, S.C. Hagen, and K. Alizad. 2016. The response of runoff and sediment loading in the Apalachicola River, Florida to climate and land use cover change. Earth’s Future. 4, pp 124-142. 

28. Chen, X., K. Alizad, D. Wang, S.C. Hagen. 2014. Climate Change Impact on Runoff and Sediment Loads to the Apalachicola River at Seasonal and Event Scales. In: Huang, W. and Hagen S.C. (eds.), Climate Change Impacts on Surface Water Systems. Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue, No. 68, pp. 35-42. 

29. Wang, D., Y. Tang. 2014. A one-parameter Budyko model for water balance captures emergent behavior in Darwinian hydrologic models. Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 41 No. 13, pp. 4569-4577.

30. Wang, D., S.C. Hagen, K. Alizad. 2013. Climate Change Impact and Uncertainty Analysis of Extreme Rainfall Events in the Apalachicola River Basin, Florida. Journal of Hydrology, Vol. 480, pp. 125-135, 

31. Chen, X., D. Wang. 2013. Evaluating the effect of partial contributing storage on storage–discharge function from recession analysis. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, Vol. 17, pp. 4283-4296. 

32. Chen, X., N. Alimohammadi, and D. Wang. 2013. Modeling interannual variability of seasonal evaporation and storage change based on the extended Budyko framework. Water Resources Research, Vol. 49(9), pp.6067-6078. 

33. Wang, D., L. Wu. 2013. Similarity of climate control on base flow and perennial stream density in the Budyko framework. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, Vol. 17 (1) pp. 315-324, 

Communication and Engagement
34. DeLorme, D.F., D.M. Kidwell, S.C. Hagen, S.H. Stephens. 2016. Developing and managing transdisciplinary and transformative research on the coastal dynamics of sea level rise: Experiences and lessons learned.  Earth’s Future.

35. Stephens, S., D.E. DeLorme, S.C. Hagen. 2016. Evaluation of the design features of interactive sea-level rise viewers for risk communication. Enivironmental Communication 45(5), pp. 2328-4277. 

36. Stephens, S., D.E. DeLorme, S.C. Hagen. 2015. Evaluating the Utility and Communicative Effectiveness of an Interactive Sea-Level Rise Viewer through Stakeholder Engagement. Journal of Business & Technical Communication, No. 29(3), pp. 314-343. 

37. Stephens, S., D.E. DeLorme, S.C. Hagen. 2014. An Analysis of the Narrative Elements of Interactive Sea Level Rise Viewers. Science Communication, Vol. 36, pp. 675-705, 

Model Enhancements
38. Hooshyar, M., S.C. Medeiros, D. Wang, S.C. Hagen. 2016. A dual EnKF for estimating water level, bottom roughness, and bathymetry in a 1-D hydrodynamic model. ASCE Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal, and Ocean Engineering. 

39. Bilskie, M.V., D. Coggin, S.C. Hagen, S.C. Medeiros. 2015. Terrain-driven unstructured mesh development through semi-automatic vertical feature extraction. Advances in Water Resources. doi:10.1016/j.advwatres.2015.09.020

40. Tamura, H., P. Bacopoulos,, D. Wang, S.C. Hagen, E.J. Kubatko. 2014. State Estimation of Tidal Hydrodynamics Using Ensemble Kalman Filter. Advances in Water Resources, Vol. 63, pp. 45-56,

Related Projects

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