Four Years After Sandy: Updates from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

Last edited 09/05/2019

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is investing $45 million in 28 science and research projects that advance scientific capabilities to improve our Nation’s resilience to coastal change impacts related to storms, climate change and sea-level rise. As outlined in the USGS Hurricane Sandy Science Plan, a comprehensive approach to research on the impacted areas, USGS is improving forecasts and understanding of storm impacts on coastal communities and ecosystems, and designing tools to assist future management and enhance natural resource health. These projects have: 

  • Updated topographic and bathymetric elevation data with new National mapping capabilities
  • Advanced water-level and storm-surge monitoring capabilities – improving monitoring networks and data delivery systems
  • Generated integrated geospatial maps, data and models showing extreme storms’ impact on coastal vulnerability to climate change and sea-level rise
  • Developed networks and models that predict vulnerability of communities and coastal wetlands to coastal-flooding impacts caused by storms, climate (sea-level rise), and human activities on management-relevant time scales
  • Assessed water quality, watershed impacts and coastal vulnerability to erosion and inundation
  • Developed new methods for measuring and monitoring toxic contaminants, human exposure risks and tracking overall changes in ecological conditions,
  • Led, coordinated and supported interagency and research partnerships with data and research priorities that advance modeling capabilities in support of landscape-scale and ecosystem-wide assessments

USGS scientists continue to assess effectiveness of coastal change and vulnerability forecasts with improved information and data delivery tools and share these valuable advisory tools with DOI decision makers, emergency managers and other partners as they manage crises at the field, regional, and national levels. As a coordinating member of DOI’s Strategic Sciences Group (SSG), the USGS provides strategic scientific expertise to the Secretary and other high-level leaders during national environmental crises. 

As of October 2016, the USGS has: 

  • Advanced capabilities to forecast coastal impacts, monitor storm surge with real-time data and information for response to coastal storms and flooding in 2015 and 2016, including Hurricane JoaquinHurricane Colin and Hurricane Matthew
  • Created a seamless and integrated Coastal National Elevation Dataset (CoNED) for the Hurricane Sandy impact area to: support coastal landscape change/vulnerability assessments; design restoration, redevelopment, and protection projects; predict future hurricane storm surge, coastal and inland flooding; devise strategies for climate change adaptation from sea-level rise. These new mapping capabilities help to systematically advance coastal mapping through the 3DEP national interagency effort.
  • Forecasted coastal change from hurricanes and major storms through partnership with NOAA, providing an online portal to identify areas vulnerable to extreme erosion during landfall. 
  • Edited the Special Issue of Marine Pollution Bulletin, a collection of papers providing baseline data on post-Hurricane Sandy contaminant levels in coastal New Jersey and New York and effects on wildlife and the built environment. See “Resetting the Bar: Establishing Baselines for Persistent Contaminants after Hurricane Sandy in the Coastal Environments of New Jersey and New York, USA,” a collaborative effort with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and several universities.
  • Assessed functions of wetland ecosystems and coastal forests and impacts to waterfowl, and is developing multi-scale datasets and geospatial data visualizations. To evaluate ecosystem resilience, USGS is extending the Joint Ecosystem Modeling (JEM) tools to the Sandy impact area. JEM offers ecological modeling and decision-support software to understand species’ responses to storm and severe climate events, and is a collaboration among Federal and State agencies, universities, and nongovernmental agencies through a suite of software tools for restoration decision-making. Its EverVIEW Data Viewer provides side-by-side map panels of model output on species or habitat impacts, allowing easy comparisons of alternative recovery plans.

In the next year, USGS plans to:

  • Assess barrier island recovery and resilience to support the Fire Island sediment management plan. The work provides FWS and NPS actionable information for physical and ecological resource management at Fire Island.  
  • Partner with USFWS to assess coastal storm impacts to wetland environments by collocating sensor transects to support DOI science and restoration activities mainly on National Wildlife Refuge lands, establishing 48 transects on 14 refuges or refuge complexes.
  • Assess the relation of backbay water levels to barrier island breaches, to improve understanding on how breaches and/or inlet management impact flooding hazards.

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