you're reading...

Coastal Management

SURFO Special: How can understanding the scenarios of rising sea levels help New England parks prepare for Nor’easters?

Each summer, the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) hosts undergraduate students from all over the country to participate in oceanographic research. These Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURFOs) have not only been working with GSO scientists, but they also have spent part of their time learning how to communicate this science to the public. Although their research experience was virtual this summer, they still did a fantastic job. Read on to find out what they have been up to, and why they everyone should be as excited as they are about their work.

Louis Borrelli (he/him) is a Physics Major at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.  He worked this summer with Dr.  Isaac Ginis, Dr. Amanda Babson, and Ph. D. student Mansur Ali Jisan.  His  project is part of a larger effort to help park managers better prepare for increased impacts of Nor’easters in southern New England parks.  A few models were used in there project that need to be validated alongside historical observational data.  This project was not difficult to do virtually as it was mostly data analysis, and the mentor and advisors were available as much as one could ask for.  This experience helped him with many skills academically and professionally.


What’s a Nor’easter?

A Nor’easter is an extratropical cyclone. It originates when cold climate from the west meets warm weather from the Gulf Stream near the Mid-Atlantic and New England.  Some compare these to hurricanes as they result in high waves and lots of flooding, but in fact they are very different.  We want to see how climate change and, more specifically, sea level rise, will affect the impacts of Nor’easters in two New England parks, Cape Cod National Seashore, and Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.  We used the Nor’easter from March 1-3, 2018 as our control scenario, and increased the sea level for different scenarios, as it was an impactful storm.  

These impacts could lead to different park facilities being damaged by high water levels.  The park is surrounded by communities of Provincetown, MA, where private lands can also be damaged.  Another area of concern would be the Provincetown Airport. It experienced flooding during the storm in 2018, and the flooding will continue to get worse as the sea level rises, the question is, how much worse will these effects get?

Rising sea levels threaten coastal areas with flooding – and the threat gets worse when winter cyclones hit. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Understanding the threat of flooding

To simulate the effects of a winter storm, we must validate the models we wish to use.  We did it by comparing the data produced by the model to data recorded at 40 weather stations that recorded either wind speed or water level near those two parks.  The model we use to show the maximum flooding in the areas is the Advanced Circulation (ADCIRC) model.  This model is a combination of precipitation, hydrological, wind, and wave models, but we only used the wave and wind models in this project.  The wind model we use to produce wind in the ADCIRC model is the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).  The wave model we use is the Simulating Waves Nearshore (SWAN) model.  The wave model was validated prior to my project.  

We validated the ECMWF model with the recorded wind speed data and the ADCIRC with the observed water level.  Once we saw that the models produced accurate data, we chose four possible sea level rise scenarios.  These scenarios are shown in Table 1.  The 100 cm scenario was the maximum water depth that the ADCIRC model could handle.  The original scenario was to be 150 cm, but the model did not work with this depth.  

The scenarios which were taken into consideration.  * Indicates a scenario provided by Caffery et al. (2018).  ** Indicates a scenario provided by USACE-2016.

We then modified the ADCIRC model using the four scenarios and used it to  produce plots of maximum flooding in two areas of Cape Cod.  The areas in Figure 1 show the maximum flooding from the March 1-3, 2018 Nor’easter with the water level at the time.

A shows the peak flooding for the northern areas of Cape Cod during the March 1-3, 2018 Nor’easter. B shows the peak flooding for the southeastern part of Cape Cod. The scale of the figure increases from 0 to 4 meters of flooding with blue being 0 and 4 being red. (Mansur Ali Jisan, 2020)










The model runs that were incorporating the sea level rise scenarios are shown in Figures 2 and 3.  

The peak flooding for all four sea level rise scenarios for the northern area of Cape Cod. The closer to red, the higher the level of flooding. (Mansur Ali Jisan, 2020)









The peak inundation for all four sea level rise scenarios in the southern area of Cape Cod. (Mansur Ali Jisan, 2020)

















As can be seen above, the rising sea level causes a significant difference in the flooding, not only in the depth of the flooding but also in the spatial distribution.  As the sea level rise increases, the airport in the northwest experiences deeper and deeper flooding.  The scenario suggests that even a 1 meter increase in the sea level can possibly cut off Cape Cod from the mainland.  

But wait – it can get worse!

Our original plan was to run a simulation in the model of 1.51 meters of sea level rise, but the model did not work with this, so we chose to do 1 meter scenario instead.  This means that the projected sea level rise for if society was to continue life as it is with no additional attempts to lessen the causes of climate change, our highest-level scenario is a half of a meter off of those predictions, so the effects would actually be worse than our highest scenario.  In our highest scenario, it can be seen that the northern part of Cape Cod is cut off of the mainland. This would make it more difficult for relief to come to the population and the park.  

For selected areas between northern and eastern Cape Cod, we found the difference in the maximum water level of the 100 cm scenario and the maximum water level of the scenario with no sea level rise.  The differences for 5 areas of Cape Cod is shown in the table below.

Difference in peak water level of the 100cm scenario and no sea level rise scenario. (Louis Borrelli, 2020)

    This project shows that the sea level rising will affect some areas other than areas in the aspect of flooding, and that predicting the effects of 100 cm of sea level rise is much more complicated than just adding 100 cm of flooding to an area of land.  Even more, the effects  of the climate change could be even worse with rainfall and strong storms. In the future, this project may take precipitation and strong Nor’easters into consideration. 



No comments yet.

Post a Comment


  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Happy Earth Day! Take some time today to do something for the planet and appreciate the ocean, which covers 71% of the Earth’s surface.  #EarthDay   #OceanAppreciation   #Oceanbites   #CoastalVibes   #CoastalRI 
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Not all outdoor science is fieldwork. Some of the best days in the lab can be setting up experiments, especially when you get to do it outdoors. It’s an exciting mix of problem solving, precision, preparation, and teamwork. Here is
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 12 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 1 year ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com