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NCCOS Project

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

This project began in January 2010 and was 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.

What We’ve Accomplished
The Apalachee Regional Planning Council integrated future surge more accurately into strategic planning documents. The National Estuarine Research Reserve in Apalachicola, FL used the Marsh Story Map to understand the potential to utilize thin layer sediment placement of dredged sediments to bolster failing marshes and to understand the natural storm surge protection provided by St. George Island and how it could change under increased sea level. Apalachicola (FL) used floodplain results for historical building adaptation. Magnolia Springs (MS) is using storm surge results for a feasibility assessment. Jackson County (MS) used storm surge data to protect wastewater treatment facilities against flooding. Santa Rosa County (FL) is using floodplain results for a Vulnerability Assessment. The U.S. Air Force used floodplain results to identify bases across the study area at risk to future flooding and to inform development planning. Two Story Maps, developed in part by NCCOS internal scientists, enabled these applications. NCCOS internal scientists conducted value-added analyses in response to stakeholder needs and met with partners listed above to answer questions about the data and provide customized data files. The project led to 57 peer-reviewed publications.

This approach was recognized in the 2014 Department of Transportation hydraulic engineering manual case study as paradigm shifting science for its “systems of systems” approach to coupling process-based models that contain sub-models.

Additional Resources

Click to expand resource list(s).

Products, Datasets & Reports

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Tidal Hydrodynamics and Shoreline Morphology

Foster-Martinez, M. R., K. Alizad, and S. C. Hagen. 2020. Estimating wave attenuation at the coastal land margin with a GIS toolbox. Environmental Modelling & Software, 132:104788. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsoft.2020.104788.

Passeri, D.L. S.C. Hagen, N.G. Plant, M.V. Bilskie, S.C. Medeiros, and K. Alizad. 2016. Tidal hydrodynamics under future sea level rise and coastal morphology in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Earth’s Future 4(5): 159-176. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2015EF000332

Passeri, D.L., S.C. Hagen, S.C. Medeiros, and M.V. Bilskie. 2015. Impacts of historic morphology and sea level rise on tidal hydrodynamics in a microtidal estuary (Grand Bay, Mississippi). Continental Shelf  Research 111(pt B): 150-158, doi:10.1016/j.csr.2015.08.001

Passeri, D.L., S.C. Hagen, S.C. Medeiros, M.V. Bilskie, K. Alizad, and D. Wang. 2015. The dynamic effects of sea level rise on coastal landscapes: A review. Earth’s Future 3(6): 159-181. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2015EF000298

Passeri, D.L., S.C. Hagen, M.V. Bilskie, and S.C. Medeiros. 2015. On the significance of incorporating shoreline changes for evaluating coastal hydrodynamics under sea level rise scenarios. Natural Hazards 75 (2): 1599-1617. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11069-014-1386-y

Passeri, D.L., S.C. Hagen, and 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, 68(issue sp1): 20-26. 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.2112/SI68-003.1

Hurricane Storm Surge

Bacopoulos, P. and 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 68: 43-48. http://dx.doi.org/10.2112/SI68-006.1

Bacopoulos, P., Y. Tang, D. Wang and S.C. Hagen. 2017. Integrated Hydrologic-Hydrodynamic Modeling of Estuarine-Riverine Flooding: 2008 Tropical Storm Fay. ASCE Journal of Hydrologic Enginneering 22(8). https://ascelibrary.org/doi/10.1061/%28ASCE%29HE.1943-5584.0001539

Bilskie, M. V., S. C. Hagen, and S. C. Medeiros. 2020. Unstructured finite element mesh decimation for real-time Hurricane storm surge forecasting. Coastal Engineering, 156:103622. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.coastaleng.2019.103622.

Bilskie, M.V., S.C. Hagen, and J.L. Irish. 2019. Development of Return Period Stillwater Floodplains for the Northern Gulf of Mexico under the Coastal Dynamics of Sea Level Rise. ASCE Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal, and Ocean Engineering 145(2). https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)WW.1943-5460.0000468

Bilskie, M.V., S.C. Hagen, S.C. Medeiros, and D.L. Passeri. 2014. Dynamics of sea level rise and coastal flooding on a changing landscape. Geophysical Research Letters 41(3): 927-934. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2013GL058759

Bilskie, M.V., S.C. Hagen, K.A. 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 4(5): 177-193. https://doi.org/10.1002/2015EF000347

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 121(5): 2169-9291  https://doi.org/10.1002/2015JC011400

Hagen, S.C. and P. Bacopoulos. 2012. Coastal Flooding in Florida's Big Bend Region with Application to Sea Level Rise Based on Synthetic Storms Analysis. Terrestrial, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences 23(5): 481-500. doi: 10.3319/TAO.2012.04.17.01(WMH)

Huang, W., S.C. Hagen, and P. Bacopoulos. 2014. Hydrodynamic modeling of Hurricane Dennis Impact on Estuarine Salinity Mixing and Transport in Apalachicola Bay. Journal of Coastal Research 30(2): 389-398. http://dx.doi.org/10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-13-00022.1

Huang, W., S.C. Hagen, P. Bacopoulos, and 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 68: 49-56. http://dx.doi.org/10.2112/SI68-007.1

Passeri, D.L., M.V. Bilskie, S.C. Hagen, N. Plant, and J. Long 2018. Dynamic modeling of barrier island response to hurricane storm surge under future sea level rise. Climatic Change 149 (3–4): 413–425. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2245-8

Taylor, N.R., J.L. Irish, I.E. Udoh, M.V. Bilskie, and S.C. Hagen. 2015. Development and Uncertainty Quantification of Hurricane Surge Response Functions for Hazard Assessment in Coastal Bays. Natural Hazards 77(2): 1103-1123. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11069-015-1646-5

Xu, S., and W. Huang. 2013. Effects of sea-level-rise on frequency analysis of 1% annual maximum water levels in the coast of Florida. Ocean Engineering 71: 96-102. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.oceaneng.2013.01.013

Lidar, Remote Sensing, and Measuring Elevation

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 32(1): 231-241, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01431160903439973

Medeiros, S.C., S.C. Hagen, and 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 8(4): 1582-1590. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/JSTARS.2015.2419817

Medeiros, S., S.C. Hagen, and J.F. Weishampel, J. Angelo. 2015. Adjusting lidar-derived digital terrain models in coastal marshes based on estimated above ground biomass density. Remote Sensing 7(4): 3507-3525.  https://doi.org/10.3390/rs70403507

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 5(11): 5662-5679. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/rs5115662

Tahsin, S., S. C. Medeiros, M. Hooshyar and A. Singh. 2017. Optical Cloud Pixel Recovery via Machine Learning. Remote Sensing 9(6): 527.  https://www.mdpi.com/2072-4292/9/6/527


Alizad, K., S.C. Hagen, S.C. Medeiros, M.V. Bilskie, J.T. Morris, L. Balthis, and C.A. Buckel. 2018. Dynamic responses and implications to coastal wetlands and the surrounding regions under sea level rise. PLoS ONE, 13(10):e0205176. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0205176

Alizad, K., S.C. Hagen, J.T. Morris, S.C. Medeiros, M.V. Bilskie, and J.F. Weishampel. 2016. Coastal wetland response to sea level rise in a fluvial estuarine system. Earth’s Future 4(11): 483–497. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2016EF000385

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: 29-43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2016.01.013

Alizad, K., S. C. Medeiros, M. R. Foster-Martinez and S. C. Hagen. 2020. Model sensitivity to topographic uncertainty in meso- and microtidal marshes. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing 13: 807-814; 19424117. DOI: 10.1109/JSTARS.2020.2973490

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): 118-125

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, and C. Wigand. 2016. Contributions of organic and inorganic matter to sediment volume and accretion in tidal wetlands at steady state. Earth’s Future 4(4): 110-121. https://doi.org/10.1002/2015EF000334

Tahsin, S., S.C., Medeiros, and A. Singh 2018. Assessing the resilience of coastal wetlands to extreme hydrologic events using vegetation indices: A review. Remote Sensing 10(9), 1390. doi:10.3390/rs10091390

Tahsin, S., S.C. Medeiros, and A. Singh. 2016. Resilience of coastal wetlands to extreme hydrologic events in Apalachicola Bay. Geophysical Research Letters 43(14): 7529-7537 doi:10.1002/2016GL069594

Wu, W., P. Biber, D. R. Mishra, and S. Ghosh 2020. Sea-level rise thresholds for stability of salt marshes in a riverine versus a marine dominated estuary. Science of The Total Environment 718, 137181. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.137181

Oysters and Turtles

Huang, W., S. C. Hagen, P. Bacopoulos, and 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 156:7-18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2014.11.008

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, and 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 493: 259-274. http://dx.doi.org/10.3354/meps10531

Solomon, J., M. Donnelly, and L. Walters. 2014. Effects of Sea level Rise on the Intertidal Oyster Crassostrea virginica by Field Experiments. Journal of Coastal Research special issue: Climate impacts on surface water systems, Journal of Coastal Research 68(issue sp1): 57-64. http://dx.doi.org/10.2112/SI68-008.1

Other Climate Change Related Assessments

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 49(9): 6067-6078. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/wrcr.20493

Chen, X., K. Alizad, D. Wang, and 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 68: 35-42. http://dx.doi.org/10.2112/SI68-005.1

Chen, X. and D. Wang. 2013. Evaluating the effect of partial contributing storage on storage–discharge function from recession analysis. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 17(10): 4283-4296. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2012.12.015

Huang, W., S.C. Hagen, D. Wang, P.A. Hovenga, F. Teng, J.F. Weishampel. 2016. Suspended sediment projections in Apalachicola Bay in response to altered river flow and sediment loads under climate change and sea level rise. Earth’s Future 4(10): 428–439. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2016EF000384

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: 124-142. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2015EF000348

Wang, D., S.C. Hagen, and K. Alizad. 2013. Climate Change Impact and Uncertainty Analysis of Extreme Rainfall Events in the Apalachicola River Basin, Florida. Journal of Hydrology 480: 125-135. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2012.12.015

Wang, D. and Y. Tang. 2014. A one-parameter Budyko model for water balance captures emergent behavior in Darwinian hydrologic models. Geophysical Research Letters 41(13); 4569-4577. https://doi.org/10.1002/2014GL060509

Wang, D. and L. Wu. 2013. Similarity of climate control on base flow and perennial stream density in the Budyko framework. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 17 (1): 315-324. http://dx.doi.org/10.5194/hess-17-315-2013

Communications and Engagement

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 4(5): 194-209. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2015EF000346

DeLorme, D.E., S.H. Stephens, S.C. Hagen, and M.V. Bilskie. 2018. Communicating with Coastal Decision-Makers and Environmental Educators via Sea Level Rise Decision-Support Tools. Journal of Science Communication 17(3). https://doi.org/10.22323/2.17030203

DeLorme, D.E., S.H. Stephens, and S.C. Hagen. 2018. Transdisciplinary Sea Level Rise Risk Communication and Outreach Strategies from Stakeholder Focus Groups. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 8(1): 13-21. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-017-0443-8

Hagen, S.C., D.L. Passeri, M.V. Bilskie, D.E. DeLorme, D. Yoskowitz, 2017.  Systems Approaches for Coastal Hazard Assessment and Resilience. In: S. Cutter (Ed): Oxford Research Encyclopedia: Natural Hazard Science. August, 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199389407.013.28

Hagen, S. C., and B. van der Pluijm. 2017. Water world: Sea level rise, coastal floods, and storm surges. EOS 98 (special issue). https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO082127

Kidwell, D., J.C. Dietrich, S.C. Hagen, and S.C. Medeiros. 2017. An Earth's Future Special Collection: Impacts of the coastal dynamics of sea level rise on low gradient coastal landscapes. Earth’s Future  5(1): 2–9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2016EF000493

Stephens, S., D.E. DeLorme, and S.C. Hagen 2020. Coastal Stakeholders’ Perceptions of Sea Level Rise Adaptation Planning in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Environmental Management 66: 407-418. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-020-01315-3

Stephens, S., D.E. DeLorme, and S.C. Hagen, 2017. Evaluation of the Design Features of Interactive Sea-Level Rise Viewers for Risk Communication. Environmental Communication 11(2):  248-262. .http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2016.1167758

Stephens, S., D.E. DeLorme, and 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 29(3): 314-343. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1050651915573963

Stephens, S., D.E. DeLorme, and S.C. Hagen. 2014. An Analysis of the Narrative Elements of Interactive Sea Level Rise Viewers. Science Communication 36(6): 675-705  http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1075547014550371

Model Enhancements

Bilskie, M.V, , D. Coggin, S.C. Hagen, and S.C. Medeiros. 2015. Terrain-driven unstructured mesh development through semi-automatic vertical feature extraction. Advances in Water Resources. 86(Part A): 102-118. doi:10.1016/j.advwatres.2015.09.020

Hooshyar, M., S.C. Medeiros, D. Wang, and S.C. Hagen. 2016. A dual EnKF for estimating water level, bottom roughness, and bathymetry in a 1-D hydrodynamic model (unpublished version).

Tamura, H., P. Bacopoulos,, D. Wang, S.C. Hagen, and E.J. Kubatko. 2014. State Estimation of Tidal Hydrodynamics Using Ensemble Kalman Filter. Advances in Water Resources 63: 45-56, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.advwatres.2013.11.002.

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