Coastal Modeling: Virtual Simulations with Real-Life Resilience Outcomes

Last year was the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy and the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, events that have forever changed the focus, public awareness, and the way we think about coastal hazards. We have learned through great tragedy and loss the importance of our coastal barriers and how pre-planning through resilience and green engineering solutions can greatly improve our community outcomes. One of the ways we help communities and businesses who are prone to coastal hazards is by analyzing possible storm flooding and damage scenarios through coastal modeling.

When we perform coastal modeling, we are using technology and our expertise to predict hazards, thereby saving lives and billions of dollars in the process. This technique is used by private, local, state, and federal organizations to give foresight of what to prepare for and how to mitigate a coastal event such as flooding or other storm damage.

Coastal model outlining storm surge and wave impacts.
Coastal model outlining storm surge and wave impacts.

The Process of Coastal Modeling

In order to better understand coastal modeling, it’s helpful to understand the process.

  • The first phase is to perform large scale 2-D storm surge and wave modeling. This is usually conducted with a surge model such as the Advanced Circulation Model (ADCIRC) and a wave model such as the Simulating WAves Nearshore (SWAN) model.
  • The second phase is to take these surges and add wave heights to them. By driving these waves over the land in the model, we can predict hazards to infrastructure, buildings, and communities. This phase can be conducted either with detailed 2-D models or a 1-D profile model, which considers surge, waves, erosion, land-use information, and predicts the effect of a storm on the built environment.
  • The final phase depends on the type of project. For example, one project might require us to map hazards at multiple levels of severity to display present or future risks, whereas another might involve formulating exact design conditions for protection projects, which we use for coastal resilience and hazard mitigation work.

Oversight Management and Review

Not only do we perform coastal modeling, but we also manage the process by putting together a project team, overseeing the modeling work, and certifying adherence to standards and guidelines. By engaging in management of the process, we can better assist our clients in staying on track and on schedule. We also offer independent review of coastal modeling, providing an outside perspective while adding our detailed review and expertise to prepare our client for requirements.

Coastal Resilience

Given the personal and financial losses after Superstorm Sandy, there is a push to protect and build up communities, specifically along the coastline of New York and New Jersey. Because many buildings in the northeast were constructed before building standards existed, many are located in risk-prone areas such as floodplains. One of the ways to mitigate against coastal hazards is for local governments to purchase houses or areas that are prone to floods so that developers cannot build on them. But another type of resilience effort that is becoming more popular is soft engineering, including using oyster reefs as wave breakwaters and creating green spaces that protect coastal communities and businesses from storms and flooding. For example, green spaces can be created by adding estuaries or marshes along the shoreline. In our design for Oakwood Beach in Staten Island, New Jersey, we targeted a risk-prone shoreline with our coastal modeling technology and then added a resilient green space to protect the neighboring community.

Oakwood Beach green space shoreline design.
Oakwood Beach green space shoreline design.

While our modeling simulates virtual coastal threats, its predictive benefits are tangible, cost-saving, and can even protect human life. We look forward to helping our clients achieve their mitigation goals through our technology and expertise.

  • Jeff Gangai
    Jeff Gangai
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