U.S. Geological Survey

Evaluating Forecasts of Coastal Change

Coastal areas in the northern Gulf of Mexico provide habitat for sea turtles, shorebirds, and other species while also protecting mainland coasts and coastal communities from waves and storm surge. Activities to restore the coast in this region are widespread because sea level rise, storms, and other factors are driving significant land loss. To make effective use of available resources like funding and sand, coastal communities, natural resource managers, and others need to be able to evaluate and predict the impact of future threats on landscapes and communities, including potentially devastating storms.

The Challenge

There are several uncertainties in understanding and forecasting the impacts of storms on the barrier islands and coasts of the northern Gulf. For this effort, The Water Institute is working closely with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to develop and apply skill assessments for forecasting coastal change on barrier islands, specifically along the coast of Louisiana, and to characterize the impacts of coastal change on communities and stakeholders. In addition, The Water Institute is supporting USGS in improving fundamental understanding of the evolution of the coastal system, including identification and quantification of the relative importance of drivers such as storms and relative sea level rise. This research will be used to evaluate and improve predictions of coastal change and understanding of the impacts of coastal evolution on communities and stakeholders, supporting USGS in providing critical information that decision-makers can use to assess and reduce the risk storms pose to coastal communities as well as to improve management of barrier island ecosystems. By working directly with stakeholders, this project will also provide valuable insights that can be used to improve the presentation and dissemination of USGS coastal change predictions to be more relevant, accessible, and consumable by local communities.

The Approach

The two activities under this effort are:

  • Develop and apply skill assessments for forecasting total water level and coastal change on barrier islands, specifically along the coast of Louisiana; and
  • Evaluate and characterize the impacts of coastal change on communities and stakeholders.

Under the first activity, the Institute is leveraging its extensive experience working in coastal Louisiana to identify potential sources of data that can be used as part of a skill assessment for models of coastal change developed by the USGS, and is identifying if and where additional data collection for benchmarking forecasts may be needed. In addition, the Institute is helping identify existing models and tools that can be used to benchmark coastal change predictions, as well as uncertainties and unknowns that may be limiting the accuracy of these real-time forecasts.

Under the second activity, the Institute is facilitating stakeholder engagement to improve understanding, accessibility, and impact of coastal change predictions. Primary data collection includes gathering and mapping of local knowledge through the collection of spatial video geonarratives (SVG), environmentally cued interviews conducted on-the-ground using video cameras capable of pairing high-definition video with precise GPS coordinates. Key stakeholders including residents, resource users, local land managers, and wildlife biologists, will accompany researchers from the Institute on a series of walking, driving, or boat tours of barrier islands, barrier shorelines, and surrounding land and gather SVGs, which are environmentally cued interviews conducted as stakeholders traverse the study site. This innovative approach to gathering environmentally coded geospatial data will allow stakeholders to identify, describe, and explain places of concern relevant to the project aim and how they are adapting their daily practices to these concerns. These data can also be used in conjunction with coastal change hazard forecasts to help inform and prioritize potential adaptations actions taken by decision-makers such as land/refuge managers and community leaders.