In a new grant from the National Science Foundation, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Marine and Environmental Sciences Professors Samuel Munoz and Jim Chen will combine their expertise in paleoclimatology and hurricane modeling to understand past storm behavior in southern New England. This project continues work based on seed funding from the Global Resilience Institute (GRI). They hope their research can be used to understand the behavior of severe storms in a variety of historic climate conditions, and thus help us predict the effects of Climate Change on future hurricane frequency, intensity, and behavior.
The grant, titled “Collaborative Research: Morphodynamic simulations of coastal storms and overwash to characterize back-barrier lake stratigraphies,” will involve collaboration between Principle Investigator Munoz and co-principle investigator Chen and focus on the study of historic overwash in the New England area. “We will study the process of coastal overwash (i.e., when sand from a beach overtops a barrier during a storm) and deposition to understand (1) the sensitivity to overwash deposition to geomorphic (i.e., landscape) change and (2) how overwash is influenced by storm magnitude and track,” said Munoz. Barriers are common coastal landforms that consist of sandy ridges that form parallel to the shoreline.
Prof. Munoz, a geoscientist with expertise in sedimentology and paleoclimatology, will collect sediment samples from lakes and ponds and analyze their age and texture. For his part, Jim Chen, a leading expert in hurricane modeling and coastal hydrodynamics, will build morphodynamic models to simulate overwash in the areas. Munoz’s work will be used to inform Chen’s models. “We will ultimately apply this information to develop reconstructions of landfalling hurricanes in southern New England over the last 2,000 years or so,” said Munoz.
As the planet faces a shifting climate caused by human activity, it is crucial for coastal communities to understand how the frequency, severity, and behavior of severe storms shifts in response to changes in climate. “Overwash deposits are often used by geologists to understand the history of coastal storms in a region. This information is useful for hazard assessment and mitigation, but has been limited to qualitative assessments of storm occurrence,” Munoz explained. “Overwash is also a critical process that shapes coastlines through erosion and deposition; our project will clarify the controls on overwash along the heavily populated coastline of southern New England.” Their work could help coastal communities better prepare for coastal storms as the planet’s climate changes and sea levels rise.