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Monitoring Coastal Flooding

Lead Scientist: Tim Canty

Associate Professor

MEES Director

Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Contact: tcanty@umd.edu

The Chesapeake Bay plays a vital socio economic role in the region, with economic benefits derived from the Bay estimated to exceed $100 billion annually [Phillips and McGee, 2016]. This region is uniquely vulnerable to sea level rise (Figure 1), coastal inundation, salinization, and erosion, loss of habitat, inland flooding, extreme weather events, nutrient pollution, harmful biological activity, and air pollution. Coastal communities, related assets, and natural resources are acutely susceptible to the impacts of storm surges and rising sea levels. Notably, the ongoing climate change and changes related to warming exacerbates this situation by intensifying sea-level rise and amplifying the frequency of extreme weather events, encompassing both tropical and extratropical storms [Jay et al., 2023]. In January 9-10, 2024, a strong extratropical cyclone moved along the Northeast coast generating severe storms and flooding that rivaled Hurricane Isabel. Annapolis, MD experienced the third highest mean higher high water ever at 3.67 feet [NOAA, 2024].   


These problems emphasize the urgency of addressing climate change at state and local levels while ensuring that the needs of all communities, especially the traditionally underserved, are addressed in an equitable manner. Accordingly, Efforts to mitigate and adapt to these climate change impacts require a comprehensive and coordinated approach involving local, state, Tribal Nation, and federal governments, communities, scientific institutions, and regional organizations.


This project will expand water level observation efforts (including low-cost water level sensors, low-cost wave buoys, web cameras, as well as data management and data/info product delivery) and establish common practices to maximize the collective value of new and existing water level observation efforts and products. Work will be conducted at local, regional, and national levels and contribute to coastal resilience and coastal flooding risk prediction applications. A key project focus is to increase equitable service delivery for data and products. Proposed projects will help fill data and product gaps in underrepresented, underserved, and overburdened communities.


We are leveraging support under a separately funded initiative to enhance water level monitoring throughout the Chesapeake Bay region by implementing a cost-effective sensor network. The primary objective is bolstering coastal resilience and an enhanced flood risk alert system. This endeavor focuses on the Maryland areas surrounding the Chesapeake Bay and integrates input from stakeholders at the community, county, and regional tiers. Priority is being given to high flood-risk communities that are currently underserved, underrepresented, and overburdened, lacking adequate monitoring infrastructure. This project is committed to advancing equitable distribution of data and resources, particularly in these marginalized areas.


The monitoring effort coordinates funding provided under the University of Maryland’s Grand Challenges program (https://research.umd.edu/climategc), an initiative that brings together the departments of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, Geography, Geology, the Marine Estuarine Environmental Science program, and the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, with support provided by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS). We are in the process of deploying an initial array of sensors developed by Hohonu (https://www.hohonu.io/) to support the Annapolis city docks climate resiliency project and will provide near real-time (<5 minutes) sea level height measurements. The sensors are solar powered and networked through cellular connections. The information gathered from the sensors coupled with NOAA tidal predictions will provide data to downscale future NOAA tide casts. A second sensor network is planned for the Deale Peninsula in Anne Arundel County in conjunction with a wetland replacement flood mitigation project. 


For the past several months, the UMD Grand Challenges team has engaged in significant stakeholder outreach including an in-person meeting on January 5th attended by roughly 50 representatives from county, state, and regional agencies and non-profit organizations. This event was very successful and led to several smaller stakeholder meetings to help us identify specific areas that we can support. Additional meetings have been scheduled for this Spring and Summer.


The University of Maryland, through support from the State, is currently building a weather station Mesonet (https://mesonet.umd.edu/). Once completed, there will be 55 stations across Maryland. Data collection and dissemination is a high priority and significant resources have been used to purchase a robust data acquisition infrastructure. Rather than purchase our own data archiving systems, the UMD Mesonet team has offered to let us use their computers.

The Area(s) the Proposed Activities Will Engage With

City of Annapolis, Deale Peninsula Anne Arundel County, Charles County Maryland

Communities That Would Benefit From the Proposed Activities

  • Annapolis
    • Small business owners lose ~ 2 million dollars per nuisance flooding event at city docks.
    • Emergency management and planning in Annapolis
  • Deale Peninsula 
    • First responders
    • Emergency management
    • Flood plain planning and zoning
  • Southern Maryland
    • Emergency management
    • First responders
    • Planning and zoning

Project Goals

Our goal is to work in partnership with decision makers across all intragovernmental levels (as noted above) to integrate social science methods and insight that ensures a better understanding of the risk preferences and other needs of decision makers. Our priority is to integrate the information from better observations and model simulations made with 1) advanced high resolution data networks essential for monitoring and assessing ongoing changes and 2) research-grade regional climate and hydrology models downscaled to help Maryland make informed decisions on community adaptation to climate change and mitigation of increasingly extreme short-term climate events.


This effort centers on the development and application of a state-of-the-art high-resolution predictive platform that interconnects land-atmosphere-ocean dynamics, marine ecosystem productivity, coastal inundation analysis, and climate risk assessment. We will validate the platform against historical records and intensive observations collected through existing observation systems and a new network of water level sensors that prioritizes areas with high flood risk, particularly communities that have been underrepresented and lack sufficient observation data. We will co-produce its information delivery system through robust partnerships with federal, state, and local agencies. The predictive platform will play a pivotal role in shaping policy decisions and fostering the establishment of resilient coastal communities in a changing climate.

Student Training and Experiential Learning:

  • Field work installing and maintaining sensors
  • Machine learning and advanced data analysis
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Learning how to build decisions support tools for communities