Predicting Coastal Impacts: Where The Atmosphere, Ocean, And Land Collide

2019-08-22T16:35:52+00:00 November 19, 2018|

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was   

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) sponsored a congressional briefing titled, “Predicting Coastal Impacts: Where the Atmosphere, Ocean, and Land Collide” to discuss the current and future threats to U.S. coastlines and how communities can mitigate, adapt, and prepare.

Why It Matters

Densely populated coastal regions, military bases, and other coastal infrastructure are vulnerable to the increasing risk of hurricanes and flooding along U.S. coastlines. Earlier this year, Hurricane Florence forced evacuations along the southern Atlantic coast, and not even a month later Hurricane Michael destroyed homes and the Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. These hardships caused by a changing planet threaten national, homeland, economic, energy, food, and water securities – our ocean security. Investments in ocean science and technology are critical to understanding these problems, preparing communities, and planning ahead to minimize impacts and save lives.

Key Points

The panelists emphasized the importance of integrating science into planning decisions, both for short-term issues, like storm surge and flooding, but also longer-term issues, like sea level rise. They highlighted the need for a holistic and interdisciplinary approach – how the ocean, atmosphere, and land interact with each other – in tackling these problems, as opposed to studying each system individually.

Speakers covered the important topic of coastal resiliency and adaptation from many different angles. Dr. Kyle Mandli (Assistant Professor of Applied Mathematics, Fu Foundation School of Engineering, Columbia University) spoke about research in computer models that can predict storm surge in a faster, more accurate way, better informing local officials and residents of high risk areas. While accuracy continues to advance, Dr. Mandli pointed out that there is room for improvement, as storm surge is dependent on a myriad of changing factors and is very difficult to predict in the timeframe needed to inform officials.

In addition to personal safety, there are many national security implications related to a changing climate. Sally Yozell (Senior Fellow and Director of the Environmental Security Program, The Stimson Center) discussed how flooding impacts military readiness, base security, and military infrastructure at bases in coastal areas. The melting Arctic creates new shipping channels, and with those come conflicts relating to national security and use.

The Gulf Coast is extremely vulnerable to the potential impacts of sea level rise and major storms. Dr. Christopher D’Elia (Professor and Dean, College of the Coast and Environment, Louisiana State University) highlighted the economic importance of the Gulf Coast, stating that it has contributed more than and contains the majority of the U.S.’s offshore drilling platforms and oil and natural gas refineries. Extreme weather events would cause major disruption to the nation, not just coastal states, if they damage these aspects of the coastal economy.


“Our coasts are the critical intersection between fast-growing and economically important communities and some of the most destructive and difficult-to-predict weather systems on the planet.” — Dr. Antonio Busalacchi (President, UCAR)

“What we do in the Gulf affects the livelihoods of everyone in the country. A port can be shut down because of a storm and cause major disruption of commerce to inland communities. The coast is ground zero for climate change and becoming more and more difficult to protect.” — Dr. Chris D’Elia (Professor and Dean, College of the Coast and Environment, Louisiana State University)

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