Leveraging NASA SWOT Mission to Improve the Monitoring and Forecasting of Coastal Hazards

Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are major global natural hazards causing frequent and recurrent devastation worldwide. The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission and its observations of sea water levels provide a unique opportunity to fundamentally transform and advance our ability to predict and map flooding from tropical storms. Forecasting storm surges and inundation from tropical storms require a deep understanding of the complex interactions between massive weather systems, mesoscale and sub-mesoscale ocean process, river discharges, estuarine processes, high frequency tidal oscillations, flow over wetlands, and complex hydrodynamics in coastal areas. Therefore, this work will test the hypothesis that by assimilating SWOT products within a storm surge model can improve the estimation of storm surge process dynamics for operational forecasting. In this project we aim to: 1) perform a synthetic data assimilation (DA) experiment to evaluate the effectiveness of assimilating SWOT observations of sea surface and wave height within a hydrodynamic model; 2) perform a historical evaluation of such framework with existing satellite altimetry data for key storm surge events in the Chesapeake Bay area; and 3) verify the efficiency of the DA in a different region, the Bay of Bengal, where in-situ observations are sparse. Our research can promote infrastructural and economic security by applying cutting edge scientific tools to improve storm surge forecasting and can help make informed decisions to mitigate the damages caused by such calamities.

This project is aimed to broaden the discussion beyond the boundaries of the geo-scientific community to better understand the contours of how coastal regions are changing. By improving our capabilities to monito and predict coastal hazards, these communities will be able to identify regional vulnerabilities to climate and environmental changes and develop appropriate adaptations strategies and sustainable actions to mitigate or even counteract the effect of those changes. Environmental justice is fundamental to ensuring that natural disasters like hurricane and storm surge do not have a disproportionate environmental, economic impact on underrepresented marginalized communities across the world. As climate change is expected to worsen the detrimental effects of coastal storm surge, improving storm surge forecast accuracy can be beneficial for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion for the vulnerable population.

Funded by C-RASC (https://c-rasc.gmu.edu/) and IDIA (https://idia.gmu.edu/).