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Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center

Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center > Sea-Level Rise Hazards and Decision Support > Research > Oceanographic Observations and Forecasting

Oceanographic Observations and Forecasting

To identify future sea level rise impacts to the coastal environment, it is important to understand how climatic and oceanographic processes will change.  Changes in winds, waves, air and ocean temperature, and precipitation, as well as sea level rise, all determine how the coast will change. These factors are correlated to long-term shoreline change, wetland and estuarine sedimentation, and surface and groundwater hydrology.  This project includes field observations and numerical models to understand the linkages between these driving forces and the coastal environment.  The modeling system is used to both hindcast a specific time period that has existing data sets of shoreline change and coastal response, and forecast a selected time period with climate data from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) global model predictions and other community-accepted sources.

The simulations are being conducted at regional and local scales, using the USGS Coastal Ocean Atmosphere Wave Sediment Transport Modeling System (COAWST).  Regional simulations, driven by downscaled output from global scale atmospheric models, predict sea surface height, wave field, circulation and coastal erosion. These computed coastal ocean datasets will allow for analyses of the differences, including extremes, of coastal storm surge, wave, shoreline change, and risk levels resulting from the current and possible future climates.

At the local scale, a surface wave model and sediment transport model are used to simulate the driving forces that contribute to changing coastal environments such as barrier beaches and coastal marshes. We also use models to simulate and analyze impacts to estuarine and wetland processes. For example, marsh accretion models (e.g. Kirwan and Guntenspergen, 2010) rely on estimates of sediment availability through tidal channels adjacent to the marsh. Physically explicit estuarine sediment transport models run with future atmospheric and hydrodynamic forcing can provide the required boundary conditions. Multiple scenarios of future wind, wave, and tidal climate will provide bounds for sediment availability in light of tidal processes and wind-wave resuspension.


Figure AM1

Figure AM1. To evaluate the potential for a local impact such as shoreline change (far right) one needs to generate these projections based on know ledge of wind, wave, and sea level behavior over a wider area. Ideally, the modelling approach can be driven by a large scale model that captures the meteorology and ocean over a large region (far left). This information can then be used to simulate ocean current, wave, and sea level with more detail over smaller regions of the study area (middle frames). With this information one can then examine the response of a specific environment at a specific location (far right).

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