Dr. Reide Corbett

ECU Professor Collaborates on Research to Predict Sea-Level Rise, Flooding from Hurricanes

In an effort to better understand sea-level rise and flooding from hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has awarded a 3-year, $1.5 million grant to a research team led by the University of Pennsylvania, including East Carolina University’s Dr. Reide Corbett. The study aims to provide predictive models and reports that can be used both by environmental scientists and coastal communities.

Corbett, a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and research scientist in the Institute for Coastal Science and Policy at ECU, will work closely with the project’s lead investigator, Dr. Benjamin Horton, associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Coastal North Carolina may see significant changes in the future due to rising seas and continued tropical cyclone activity,” said Corbett. “To effectively adapt to a changing coast, we need to better understand the relationship between climate and sea level variability. That is one of the main objectives of this study – using the past as a key to the future.”

The NOAA-backed project draws upon research Horton, Corbett and other collaborators from ECU, Penn State, The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Finland's Aalto University School of Engineering and Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research have published during the last several years. The culmination of this work produced a landmark study that resulted in the first reconstruction of sea-level rise in North Carolina over the past 2000 years.

“The foundation of current models for sea-level projections is data from the 20th century, but we’ve started to be able to push further back in time,” said Horton. “This allows us to have a better understanding of the past relationship between climate and sea level and to make better predictions about the future.”

The team will combine empirical and modeled sea-level rise scenarios with state-of-the-science hurricane and storm surge modeling at six study sites from Florida to Massachusetts. This will enable them to map coastal flooding for the current climate and the best- and worst-case climate scenarios of the 21st century. These multi-sourced sea-level rise scenarios also will be integrated into strategic policy documents to make diverse technical results more accessible for adaptive coastal decision-making.

This spring, the researchers will begin to meet with coastal managers to get input about how such sea-level and flooding projections might be best put to use. In the wake of Hurricane Irene, Corbett believes that the public is more aware of the hazards along our coast and is likely interested in future flooding scenarios.

“It’s important that we present our scientific results and products to local communities,” said Corbett. “We will be providing information and products that will aid in future planning.”  

For additional information, contact Corbett at 252-328-1367 or corbettd@ecu.edu.