Developing flood early warning systems for the world’s tropical coasts

Published: 7 April 2020

Many tropical countries and islands with reef-lined coasts are increasingly at risk of coastal flooding from tropical cyclones and rising sea levels. The working group UFORiC (Understanding Flooding Of Reef-lined Coasts), in which Deltares participates, has been established to address this issue. They recently published a roadmap to develop flood modelling systems for the world’s tropical coastlines in support of early warning and adaptation planning.

Tropical coral reef-lined coasts have always been exposed to extreme storm impacts. Sea level rise, changes in wind and weather patterns and the widespread deterioration of coral reefs will make these small island nations even more prone to flooding. At the same time, most economic assets and approximately a third of the population across all small island nations are situated in the low-lying coastal plains, i.e. within 5 m elevation of mean sea level. A global joint effort is necessitated by the limited resources each small coastal or island nation has in order to develop flood early warning systems and coastal climate services in support of adaptation.

Worldwide expertise

The UFORiC working group has set its heart on providing stakeholders in coral reef-lined coastal zones with the tools and research that aid disaster risk management and climate change adaptation. To achieve this, the working group is bringing together researchers from Deltares, the US, Australia, New Caledonia, UK, New Zealand, Spain and Fiji. The combined expertise on sea level, waves, flood forecasting and reef processes enables the design of a modelling system specific to forecast coastal flooding on coral reef-lined coasts. There are many processes at play on coral reef-lined coasts that differ greatly from other environments and that necessitate a specialized approach. Deltares played a crucial role in figuring out the optimal use and coupling of various hydrodynamic models to produce relevant information for stakeholders in small island nations.

Benefits roadmap

The benefit of the published roadmap is that it outlines a coastal flood modelling system, which can be built from readily available open source data services and models. The next step will be to create an opportunity to put this roadmap into action.  To achieve this, UFORiC has named it a priority to engage with stakeholders from national meteorological services emergency management, coastal planning and the finance sector.

UFORiC participating institutes: 

  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • CSIRO – Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
  • IHE Delft
  • Deltares
  • Pacific Community (SPC), Fiji
  • The University of Western Australia, Perth
  • U. of Hawaii, Honolulu, USA
  • Research Institute for Development, Noumea, New Caledonia
  • University of California, San Diego, USA
  • University of Cantabria, Santander, Spain

“Steps to Develop Early Warning Systems and Future Scenarios of Storm Wave-Driven Flooding Along Coral Reef-Lined Coasts”,
published in Frontiers in Marine Science.

Gundula Winter (Deltares), Curt Storlazzi (Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey), Sean Vitousek (Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey), Ap van Dongeren (Deltares), Robert McCall (Deltares) et al.