Impacts of coastal flooding on watersheds in Hampton Roads, VA
Mitchell, Allison Paige
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Coastal communities face threats of flooding associated with episodic storm events and high tides that are increasing in severity and frequency due to climate change and sea level rise (SLR). The Mid-Atlantic U.S. is experiencing SLR at rates faster than the global average, especially in Hampton Roads, Virginia where the rate of SLR is accelerating due to land subsidence. Adaptation plans for coastal flooding are mostly made at the municipality level, ignoring the propagation of water across its administrative boundaries. Impact assessment at the watershed scale identifies areas where municipalities will need to collaborate to mitigate the flood impact. The main purpose of this project was to evaluate the impact of flooding among watersheds in Hampton Roads and identify those most at risk that overlap one or more municipal boundary. Additionally, this research assessed the impact on land use/cover and population throughout the Hampton Roads region and within a case study watershed. To meet these objectives, we used U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 50-year floodplain and NOAA intermediate SLR scenarios for 2030, 2060, and 2090 to calculate the percent land area inundated for each watershed in Hampton Roads. Further, we assessed the flood impact on populations and specific land use/covers throughout the region for each SLR scenario, as well as within the Elizabeth River watershed. Key findings show that five watersheds will see a greater increase in inundated area than the surrounding watersheds, with two that overlap multiple municipalities. The anticipated land use impacts indicate significant inundation of land occupied by military, followed by commercial, industrial, and wetland covers both in Hampton Roads and within the Elizabeth River watershed. These findings not only highlight the need for more synchronized collaboration on adaptation between municipalities in Hampton Roads, but also provide a framework for the impact assessments in similar settings globally.
General Audience Abstract
Coastal communities face numerous threats of flooding due to storm events and high tides. These events are becoming more frequent due to climate change and sea level rise (SLR). The Mid-Atlantic U.S. is experiencing SLR at rates faster than the global average, especially in Hampton Roads, Virginia where the rate of SLR is accelerating due to sinking land. Water movement does not recognize administrative boundaries but rather reflects physical features of the land. At the same time most plans to combat rising water levels are often made within administrative boundaries. The main objective of this research is to evaluate the flood impacts at the watershed scale and identify areas where localities will need to collaborate to reduce flood impact. This research further explores answers the following questions: 1.)Which watersheds in Hampton Roads are most prone to flooding?; and 2.) How many people will be impacted by flooding, and what kinds of land uses will be impacted? To answer these questions, we used floodplain data and SLR scenarios for 2030, 2060, and 2090 to determine land area inundated for each watershed in Hampton Roads. Further, we summarized population and land use impacts within the floodplain for the entire region, as well as within a case study of the Elizabeth River watershed in Norfolk and Portsmouth. Key findings include five watersheds that will see a greater increase in inundated area with SLR than surrounding watersheds, two of which contain multiple municipalities. Finally, we identified significant impacts for military, commercial, industrial, and wetland land covers both in Hampton Roads and within the Elizabeth River watershed.
- Masters Theses