Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Scientific PI: Scott C. Hagen (University of Central Florida)

Application PI: Dave Ruple (Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve)

Co-PI: Brian Batten (Dewberry, Inc.)

Co-PI: Denise E. DeLorme (University of Central Florida)

Co-PI: Wenrui Huang (Florida State University)

Co-PI: James T. Morris (University of South Carolina)

Co-PI: Jerry Sparks (Dewberry, Inc.)

Co-PI: Linda Walters (University of Central Florida)

Co-PI: Dingbao Wang (University of Central Florida)

Co-PI: John Weishampel (University of Central Florida)

Co-PI: Gour-Tsyh (George) Yeh (University of Central Florida)

Project Summary

Sea level rise (SLR) has the potential to affect a variety of coastal habitats with a myriad of deleterious ecological effects and to overwhelm human settlements along the coast. SLR should be given serious consideration when more than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the coast. SLR effects will be felt along coastal beaches and in estuarine waters, with consequences to barrier islands, submerged aquatic vegetation beds, sand and mud flats, oyster reefs, and tidal and freshwater wetlands. Managers of these coastal resources must be aware of potential consequences of SLR and adjust their plans accordingly to protect and preserve the resources under their care. The Gulf Coast provides critical habitats for a majority of the commercially important species in the Gulf of Mexico, which depend on inshore waters for either permanent residence or nursery areas. The ecosystem services provided by these coastal habitats are at risk from rising sea level.

A team led by the University of Central Florida is assessing the risk to coasts and coastal habitats from SLR in particular and climate change in general (e.g., changes in precipitation). The 5-year project involves collaboration among the Universities of Central Florida and South Carolina, Florida State University, the Apalachicola, Grand Bay and Weeks Bay NERRS, and Dewberry, Inc. The multi-disciplinary team is applying existing models of circulation and transport from the watershed (SWAT & WASH123D) to the sea (ADCIRC-2DDI & POM), including waves (SWAN). Particular field and laboratory experiments (e.g., marsh organs and oyster ladders) are conducted at the NERRs to parameterize saltmarsh and oyster habitat models. The ultimate predictions will include sediment loadings to the estuary as a result of overland flow and salinity transport in numerous bay systems; all of which will be used to model the impact of climate change (with focus on SLR) on intertidal marshes, oysters and submerged aquatic vegetation at the three NERRs.

The numerical models make use of existing bathymetric and topographic data (e.g. LiDAR) and related data sets, numerous ongoing synergistic activities, as well as field and laboratory experiments and analyses. Tides, wind waves, and hurricane storm surge are being simulated for the region of the Northern Gulf of Mexico that includes the entire Mississippi, Alabama and Florida panhandle coasts and floodplains. Hydrodynamic impacts are being assessed with respect to NOAA SLR scenario guidelines of low, intermediate low, intermediate high and high SLR for 2050 & 2100. This effort will span the Northern Gulf of Mexico region and include hydrodynamic assessments of surge (e.g., case studies and changes to floodplains) and tides (e.g., nearshore and embayment tidal constituents and residuals, MLW, MHW, etc.).

In addition, an important social science component is incorporated that involves annual management committee workshops. These stakeholder workshops have been conducted with the objectives to: overview the EESLR-NGOM project and products; learn about noted/expected ecological changes and concerns; solicit input on products' content/format; identify gaps in products, user groups, and target audiences; and connect with ongoing SLR research and extension. Coastal resource managers who work within and/or are familiar with the region participate. The general workshop structure includes the project overview; scientific presentations with time for questions and answers; facilitated panel discussions on ecological changes noticed, level of concern about SLR issues, reactions to the presentations, and identification of product user groups; a scientific planning meeting, and a focus group. The focus group was incorporated to better understand managers' SLR-related behaviors and informational needs, solicit input on product development, and gather outreach recommendations.

The project will result in products whereby managers will be able to assess marshes, oyster reefs, submerged aquatic vegetation, predict wetland stability and identify restoration locations for marsh and oyster habitats. In addition, Decision Support tools are being produced that will enable managers to predict future coastal erosion rates for management-specified shorelines. Project outcomes will enable the management community to prioritize risk management strategies, reformulate setback requirements, improve guidelines for construction of breakwaters and other coastal infrastructure, and assess water resources impacts and protection needs.


Sea Level Rise: Facing the Issues (July 2013)


The following are publications related to the Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise in the Northern Gulf of Mexico (EESLR-NGOM) and are funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Grant NA10NOS4780146.

Karim Alizad, Matthew V. Bilskie, Davina Passeri (2013)." Integrated Modeling of Hydrodynamics and Marsh Evolution Under Sea Level Rise in Apalachicola, Florida". Florida Watershed Journal, Online.

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

Hagen, S.C., Morris, J.T., Bacopoulos, P., Weishampel, J.F. (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, doi:10.1061/(ASCE)WW.1943-5460.0000177.

Hagen, S.C., and Bacopoulos, P. (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).

Smar, Daina E. (2012). "An Assessment of Ecological Processes in the Apalachicola Estuarine System, Florida." MS thesis, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida.

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