USGS visual identity mark and link to main Web site

USGS Mendenhall Postdoctoral  Research Fellowship Program

14-45. Predicting impacts of extreme storm events on coastal systems

The impact of severe storms such as hurricanes on coastal systems is becoming more prevalent, especially in the northeastern USA, the nation’s most densely populated coastal region. Recent impacts from Hurricane Irene (2011) and Superstorm Sandy (2012) have impacted large areas and created an eye-opening insight to a possible future of increased and more intense storms. However, the impacts from these events can vary greatly both between storms and across different spatial scales. For example, during Hurricane Irene some locations resulted in strong coastal accretion and build-up of beaches, while during Superstorm Sandy some of those same areas suffered severe erosion. The ability to explain the impacts from these events on coastal change, and to understand why certain regions were impacted differently, will allow us to better predict coastal change for future events.

The majority of the eastern US coastline, especially along the east coast (NY, NJ, DE, MD, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL) are lined with barrier islands. These barrier island systems maintain a line of defense to protect the mainland from severe storm damage and they provide different types of habitats that are refuges for wildlife. These barrier systems are critical for a healthy coastal environment. Storm impacts occur at many spatial and temporal scales; here we seek to focus on the nearshore and subaerial zone to better understand how extreme storm events modify barrier systems.

We seek a Mendenhall Fellow to conduct research that will increase our understanding of the impacts of severe storms on coastal systems. The incumbent would use an established comprehensive physics-based modeling system for coastal waves, ocean currents, sediment transport, and morphological evolution to simulate the oceanographic conditions and coastal response during severe storms, such as Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. Large amounts of observational data are available for these storms, and are the subject of other ongoing research along the barrier system of Fire Island, NY. However, the incumbent could investigate other relevant locations and severe events. The modeling system could be used to specifically investigate the phase-averaged incident waves, nearshore infragravity waves, ocean currents, water levels, runup, and overtopping processes resulting in morphological change during the storm events. The Fellow could investigate in detail the processes during one event, or contrast vastly different responses at the same locations of the barrier system from different events.

Several current USGS research projects are investigating coastal processes along the US east coast, including the Coastal Change Processes Project, Estuarine Dynamics Project in Barnegat Bay, and the National Assessment of Coastal Change Hazards Project along Assateague Island and other impacted areas. Data collected by these projects include both pre- and post-storm LIDAR surveys, breach surveys, oceanographic field studies, and modeling studies. Additionally, during extreme storm events, large arrays of water level sensors were deployed by the USGS and other research centers, resulting in a comprehensive data set of storm surge and tide levels.

To simulate the storm events and to investigate the coastal response, the research community has developed a coupled modeling system that combines the atmospheric model Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF), a surface wave model Simulating Waves Nearshore (SWAN), the ocean circulation Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS), the Community Sediment Transport Modeling System (CSTMS) routines (Warner, et al., 2008a, 2008b; 2010), and an infragravity wave model. All of these components are open-source code. Most of the components are routinely used by the larger research community and the complete modeling system is being used by researchers globally. We recently held a training course for the system and the main developers are present at the proposed duty station. The modeling system has already been used to investigate wave-current interaction processes (Kumar et al., 2012) and other storms such as Hurricane Isabel (Warner et al., 2010), Nor'Ida (Olabarrieta, et al., 2012), and Hurricane Ivan (Zambon, et al., submitted).

The postdoctoral research is expected to utilize various components of this system to investigate storm dynamics, use the model results to understand the significant physical processes occurring during the events, and compare the coastal response to observational data. Understanding of the specific processes at one location can lead to broader understanding in other geographic locations.  The Fellow will have the opportunity for daily interaction and guidance from a strong and diverse group of USGS scientists involved in the development, testing, and application of hydrodynamics based models for predicting coastal change. Additionally they will have the opportunity to receive guidance and feedback on in-progress research from some of the world’s leading scientists in coastal physical processes both at the USGS and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).


Kumar, N., Voulgaris, G., Warner, J.C., and Olabarrieta, M., 2012. Implementation of the vortex force formalism in the coupled ocean-atmosphere-wave-sediment transport (COAWST) modeling system for inner shelf and surf zone applications. Ocean Modelling. (2012), doi:10.1016/j.ocemod.2012.01.003.

Olabarrieta, M., Warner, J.C., and Armstrong, B. (2012). “Ocean-atmosphere dynamics during Hurricane Ida and Nor'Ida: an atmosphere-ocean-wave coupled modeling system application.” Ocean Modelling, 43-44, pp 112-137.

Warner, J.C., Sherwood, C.R., Signell, R.P., Harris, C.K., and Arango, H.G., (2008a) “Development of a three-dimensional, regional, coupled wave, current, and sediment-transport model.” Computers and Geosciences, 34, 1284-1306.

Warner, J.C., Perlin, N., and Skyllingstad, E., (2008b) “Using the Model Coupling Toolkit to couple earth system models.”Environmental Modelling and Software, 23, 1240-1249.

Warner, J.C., Armstrong, B., He, R., and Zambon, J. (2010). Development of a Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere-Wave-Sediment Transport (COAWST) Modeling System, Ocean Modelling, 35, 230-244.

Zambon, J.B., He, R., and Warner, J.C. (submitted). Numerical Investigation of Hurricane Ivan Using the Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere-Wave-Sediment Transport (COAWST) Model, Dynamics of Atmosphere and Oceans.

 Proposed Duty Station: Woods Hole, MA

Areas of Ph.D.: Geology, oceanography, computer science, civil engineering, coastal engineering (candidates holding a PhD. in other disciplines but with 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 Advisor(s): John Warner, (508) 457-2237,; Jeff List, (508) 457-2343,

Human Resources Office Contact: Junell Norris, (303) 236-9557,

Go back to Summary of Opportunities

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
URL: Warner.htm
Direct inquiries to Rama K. Kotra at
Maintained by: Mendenhall Research Fellowship Program Web Team
Last modified: 17:58:09 Tue 23 Jul 2013
Privacy statement | General disclaimer | Accessibility