NOAA Helps Prepare East Coast Communities for Tsunami, Storm-Driven Flood Threats

December 3, 2007

National Geophysical Data Center 3 Arch-Second Coastal Relief Model, Long Island.
National Geophysical Data Center 1/3 Arc-Second Coastal Relief Model, Long Island.

+ High Resolution (Credit: NOAA)

A team of scientists took a crucial step forward in NOAA’s effort to prepare U.S. coastal communities, including Long Island, Atlantic City, and Daytona Beach for potentially deadly tsunami and storm-driven flooding.

Scientists with NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, both based in Boulder, Colo., recently created high-resolution digital elevation models, or DEMs, for the three cities.

“Tsunamis are a real threat to coastal communities across the world, including the United States,” said Lisa Taylor, NOAA NGDC project manager. “Developing coastal digital elevation models is one of a series of important collaborative efforts within NOAA to create the best possible Tsunami Warning System for the country.”

The DEMs are constructed from near-shore seafloor depth and land elevation data to create a detailed representation of coastal relief. They provide the underlying framework necessary to accurately forecast the magnitude and extent of coastal flooding during a tsunami or storm surge event. Since 2006, scientists have created DEMs for 20 U.S. coastal communities.  The team expects to build more than 50 additional DEMs for U.S. coastal communities in the coming years.

National Geophysical Data Center 3 Arch-Second Coastal Relief Model, Atlantic City.
National Geophysical Data Center 1/3 Arc-Second Coastal Relief Model, Atlantic City.

+ High Resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Once a DEM is developed, it is sent to the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., where it is incorporated into tsunami model scenarios. These scenarios simulate offshore earthquakes, the resulting tsunami movement across the ocean, and the magnitude and location of coastal flooding caused when the tsunami reaches the shore. With these results, the NOAA Tsunami Warning Centers can issue more accurate flooding forecasts if an earthquake triggers an actual tsunami.

“Near the shoreline, all tsunamis are sensitive to minor variations in seafloor and land topography, increasing in height as they approach the coast,” said Barry Eakins, CIRES research scientist. “A better understanding of these variables is critical to predicting how a tsunami will flood coastal communities.”

NOAA, along with its federal and state partners in the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, is implementing the Tsunami Risk Reduction for the United States: A Framework for Action, a joint report of the Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction and the United States Group on Earth Observation, December 2005. This action plan addresses the tsunami improvement initiative in the near-term and plans for a coordinated tsunami risk reduction effort over the long term.

National Geophysical Data Center 3 Arch-Second Coastal Relief Model, Daytona Beach.
National Geophysical Data Center 1/3 Arc-Second Coastal Relief Model, Daytona Beach.

+ High Resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.