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A New Architecture for Coastal Inundation and Flood Warning Prediction

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The marine atmosphere, coastal ocean, estuary, harbor and river water systems constitute a physically coupled system. While these systems have always been heavily impacted by coastal storms, increases in population density, infrastructure, and personal and business merchandise have exacerbated the economic and personal impacts of these events over the past half century. As such there has been increased focus on the need for more timely and accurate forecasts of impending events. Traditionally model forecast architectures for coastal storm surge, flooding and inundation of coastal and inland areas have taken the approach of dealing with each system separately: rivers, estuaries, harbors and offshore facing areas. However, given advances in coupled modeling and the availability of real-time data, the ability to accurately predict and project coastal, estuary and inland flooding related to the passage of high energy and wet atmospheric events is rapidly emerging and requires a new paradigm in system architecture. No longer do monthly averaged winds or river discharge or water levels have to be invoked in developing hindcasts for planning purposes or for real-time forecasts. In 1999 a hurricane associated flood on the North Carolina coast took 56 lives and caused more than $6 billion in economic impacts. None of the models existing at that time were able to properly forecast the massive flooding and clearly called for a new model paradigm.

Here we propose a model system that couples atmospheric information to fully three dimensional, non-linear time dependent ocean basin, coastal and estuary hydrodynamic models coupled to interactive river models with input of real or modeled winds, observed or modeled precipitation, measured and modeled water levels, and streamflow. The river and estuarine components must both be capable of going into modes of storage or accelerated discharge. Spatial scales must downscale in the horizontal from thousands to tens meters and in the vertical from hundreds to several centimeters. Topography and elevation data should be of the highest resolution available, necessary for highly accurate predictions of the timing and location of the inundation and retreat of flood waters. Precipitation information must be derived from the optimal mix of direct radar, satellite and ground-based observations. Creating the capability described above will advance the modernization of hydrologic services provided by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and provide more accurate and timely forecasts and climatologies of coastal and estuary flooding. The goal of these climatologies and improved forecasts is to provide better information to local and regional planners, emergency managers, highway patrols and to improve the capacity of coastal communities to mitigate against the impacts of coastal flooding.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-12-01

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  • The Marine Technology Society Journal is the flagship publication of the Marine Technology Society. It publishes the highest caliber, peer-reviewed papers on subjects of interest to the society: marine technology, ocean science, marine policy and education. The Journal is dedicated to publishing timely special issues on emerging ocean community concerns while also showcasing general interest and student-authored works.
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