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USGS Mendenhall Postdoctoral  Research Fellowship Program

14-20. Modeling Coastal Response to Climate Change

Beach erosion, cliff failures, and flooding of coastal areas are critical issues for much of the world’s densely populated coastline that will likely become increasingly problematic with the changing climate. For example, over 50 million people/year more may experience coastal flooding due to global sea level rise alone in the next century, a five-fold increase over the late 20th century (Nicholls, 2004). A warming climate has the potential to not only raise sea level but also to exacerbate coastal change hazards due to alterations in ocean circulation patterns, tidal amplitudes, winds, and storms (Ruggiero, 2008; Ruggiero et al., 2010). These potentially changing factors all contribute to uncertainties in future shoreline positions. Nevertheless, models for assessing the physical impacts of climate change rarely consider the effects of long-term coastal morphology change, and commonly apply a basic “bath tub” model of sea level rise given existing topography and use only simple storm scenarios that don’t take into account all the relevant physical processes (e.g., wave effects, surge, or terrestrial-based flooding). While simple translations of shoreline topography might be useful for projecting shoreline positions under static conditions, that type of approach is not relevant in consideration of coastal morphology attempting to reach a dynamic equilibrium in response to changing atmospheric and oceanographic conditions.

Postdoctoral research under this Opportunity is expected to make a fundamental scientific contribution to the coastal research community that results in more sophisticated and accurate predictions of coastal change associated with climate change over the next century. A specific objective must be to develop an approach to account for long-term beach and cliff evolution in coastal hazard modeling on high-energy, active margin coasts. The research approach should consider dynamic feedbacks between the cliff and beach, alongshore and cross-shore heterogeneity in substrate composition, and coupled feedback with physical process modeling. A primary output of the Fellow’s research must generate coastal change maps under plausible climate change scenarios including impacts from projected sea level rise and changes in storm frequency and intensity out to the year 2100. Our goal is to provide a robust assessment of future coastal change to aid decision-makers in creating restoration and management plans for long-term protection of coastal ecosystems and existing infrastructure. The approach developed by the Fellow should be broadly applicable to a range of coastal settings and environments.

The prototype approach for projecting future coastal change is to be developed for the complicated Southern California coast in support of a collaboration the USGS is undertaking with NOAA, National Park Service, California State Coastal Conservancy, and the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. Results from the research will be used to generate a more plausible projection of future coastal change hazards for the region using the USGS-led Coastal Storm Modeling System (CoSMoS) (  Results of the coastal change projections will be integrated in the existing modeling framework, for detailed predictions of coastal inundation, flooding, erosion and cliff failures (Hapke and Plant, 2010) over large geographic scales due to powerful storms and climate change (Barnard et al., 2009).

The improvements developed as part of research under this Opportunity should be calibrated and validated using data gathered in several current USGS projects focusing on short-term coastal change in Southern and Northern California ( There are also opportunities for calibration/validation in other active USGS research locations, and those of our partners, that include the U.S. Pacific Ocean coast, including the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Hawaii, the Southeast, and Gulf Coast.


Barnard, P.L., O’Reilly, B., van Ormondt, M., Elias, E., Ruggiero, P., Erikson, L.H., Hapke, C., Collins, B.D., Guza, R.T., Adams, P.N., Thomas, J.T., 2009. The framework of a coastal hazards model: a tool for predicting the impact of severe storms. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009-1073, 19 pp.,

Hapke, C.J. and Plant, N., 2010. Predicting Coastal Cliff Erosion Using a Bayesian Probabilistic Model. Marine Geology, Volume 278, p.140-149.

Nicholls, R.J., 2004. Coastal flooding and wetland loss in the 21st century: changes under the SRES climate and socio-economic scenarios. Global Environmental Change, Volume 14, p. 69-86, doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2003.10.007.

Ruggiero, P., 2008. Impacts of climate change on coastal erosion and flood probability in the US Pacific Northwest. Proceedings of Solutions to Coastal Disasters 2008, Oahu, HI.

Ruggiero, P., Komar, P.D. and Allan, J.C., 2010. Increasing wave heights and extreme-value projections: the wave climate of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Coastal Engineering, Volume 57, p. 539-552, doi:10.1016/j.coastaleng.2009.12.005.

Proposed Duty Station: Santa Cruz, CA

Areas of Ph.D.: Geology, oceanography, computer science, civil engineering, coastal engineering, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

 Qualifications: Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications - Research Geologist, Research Oceanographer, Computer Engineer, Civil Engineer.

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above. However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of theposition will be made by the Human Resources specialist).

Research Advisors: Patrick Barnard, (831) 460-7556,; Li Erikson, (831) 460-7563,; Cheryl Hapke, (727) 803-8747, ext. 3068,; Nathaniel Plant, (727) 803-8747, ext. 3072,

Peter Ruggiero (Oregon State U), (541) 737-1239,; Reinhard Flick (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), (858) 534-3234,, Chip Fletcher (U Hawaii), (808) 956-2582,

Human Resources Office Contact: Lisa James, (916) 278-9405,

Go back to Summary of Opportunities

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URL: Barnard.htm
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Last modified: 17:58:03 Tue 23 Jul 2013
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