Earth Institute Research Projects

Integrated Coastal Modeling (ICoM)

Lead PI: Darren Engwirda

Unit Affiliation: Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR)

Unit Affiliation: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)

January 2020 - January 2021
Atlantic Ocean
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Coastal regions across the country and around the world are exposed to a wide range of natural hazards, many of which are increasing in frequency and intensity. The dramatic growth in coastal populations has increased the exposure of human systems to many of these hazards and has exacerbated some of them—such as flooding and hypoxia—due to the environmental impacts of expanding human development. There are many activities underway to observe, understand, and project future changes in coastal systems. However, major gaps exist in the understanding of coastal processes, which are generally difficult to simulate in numerical models due to the presence of sharp horizontal gradients and complex coupled interactions between human and natural systems, especially in the context of multiple interacting stresses over multi-decadal timescales.

Integrated Coastal Modeling (ICoM) fills these gaps by developing, evaluating, and applying a range of modeling tools to systematically analyze coastal processes, hazards, and responses across a range of spatiotemporal scales. The first three years of ICoM focus on the mid-Atlantic region, which exhibits a wide diversity of coastal development patterns and is home to dense networks of connected infrastructure that is often stressed or disrupted by hurricanes, extratropical storms, droughts, and other extreme events. During this first phase, the project is: (1) improving scientific understanding of how large-scale meteorological patterns and surface-atmosphere interactions drive mid-Atlantic extreme events; (2) coupling infrastructure, coastal development, and hazard modeling and emulation capabilities to characterize the time-evolving risk and resilience of co-evolving human and natural systems; (3) extending the Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM) to better resolve human–land–river–ocean interactions, including cross-component transport of salinity, sediment, and nutrients; (4) characterizing subsurface hydrological response and its interaction with surface water under sequences of extreme droughts and storms; and (5) delivering new insights into the role of coastal development patterns in driving natural system changes, including key biogeochemical and hydrological processes, and the strengths and limitations associated with different coastal hazard modeling techniques.

Collectively, ICoM’s activities represent a major step toward a long-term vision of delivering a robust predictive understanding of coastal evolution that accounts for the complex, multiscale interactions among physical, biological, and human systems.