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Physically based assessment of hurricane surge threat under climate change

Nature Climate Change volume 2, pages 462467 (2012) | Download Citation

Abstract

Storm surges are responsible for much of the damage and loss of life associated with landfalling hurricanes. Understanding how global warming will affect hurricane surges thus holds great interest. As general circulation models (GCMs) cannot simulate hurricane surges directly, we couple a GCM-driven hurricane model with hydrodynamic models to simulate large numbers of synthetic surge events under projected climates and assess surge threat, as an example, for New York City (NYC). Struck by many intense hurricanes in recorded history and prehistory, NYC is highly vulnerable to storm surges. We show that the change of storm climatology will probably increase the surge risk for NYC; results based on two GCMs show the distribution of surge levels shifting to higher values by a magnitude comparable to the projected sea-level rise (SLR). The combined effects of storm climatology change and a 1 m SLR may cause the present NYC 100-yr surge flooding to occur every 3–20 yr and the present 500-yr flooding to occur every 25–240 yr by the end of the century.

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Acknowledgements

N.L. was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, administered by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, and the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs for the Science, Technology and Environmental Policy fellowship. We acknowledge the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory computational support. We thank J. Westerink and S. Tanaka of the University of Notre Dame for their support on the ADCIRC implementation. We also thank B. Colle of Stony Brook University for providing us with the high-resolution ADCIRC mesh.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139-4307, USA

    • Ning Lin
    •  & Kerry Emanuel
  2. Department of Geosciences and the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

    • Michael Oppenheimer
  3. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

    • Erik Vanmarcke

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Contributions

All authors contributed extensively to the work presented in this paper, and all contributed to the writing, with N.L. being the lead author.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests. However, in the interests of transparency we confirm that one of us, Kerry Emanuel, is on the boards of two property and casualty companies: Homesite and Bunker Hill, and also on the board of the AlphaCat Fund, an investment fund dealing with re-insurance transactions. In all three cases, Dr Emanuel receives fixed fees but owns no stocks or shares. Dr Emanuel does not stand to make any personal financial gain through these directorships as a consequence of the reported findings.

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Correspondence to Ning Lin.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1389

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