Coastal flooding normally occurs when dry and low-lying land is submerged by seawater. The range of a coastal flooding is a result of the elevation of floodwater that penetrates the inland which is controlled by the topography of the coastal land exposed to flooding. Flood damage modelling was limited to local, regional or national scales. However, with the presence of climate change and an increase in the population rates, flood events have intensified and called for a global interest in finding out different methods with both spatial and temporal dynamics.
The seawater can flood the land via several different paths: direct flooding, overtopping of a barrier, breaching of a barrier.
Coastal flooding is largely a natural event, however human influence on the coastal environment can exacerbate coastal flooding. Extraction of water from groundwater reservoirs in the coastal zone can instigate subsidence of the land, thus increasing the risk of flooding. Engineered protection structures along the coast such as sea walls alter the natural processes of the beach, often leading to erosion on adjacent stretches of the coast which also increases the risk of flooding. Moreover, sea level rise and extreme weather caused by climate change will increase the intensity and amount of coastal flooding affecting hundreds of millions of people.
The seawater can flood the land via several different paths:
- Direct flooding — where the sea height exceeds the elevation of the land, often where waves have not built up a natural barrier such as a dune
- Overtopping of a barrier — the barrier may be natural or human-engineered and overtopping occurs due to swelling conditions during storms or high tides often on open stretches of the coast. The height of the waves exceeds the height of the barrier and water flows over the top of the barrier to flood the land behind it. Overtopping can result in high velocity flows that can erode significant amounts of the land surface which can undermine defense structures.
- Breaching of a barrier — again the barrier may be natural (sand dune) or human-engineered (sea wall), and breaching occurs on open coasts exposed to large waves. Breaching occurs when the barrier is broken down or destroyed by waves allowing the seawater to extend inland and flood the areas
Storms and storm surges
Storms, including hurricanes and tropical cyclones, can cause flooding through storm surges which are waves significantly larger than normal. If a storm event coincides with the high astronomical tide, extensive flooding can occur. Storm surges involve three processes:
- wind setup
- barometric setup
- wave setup
Wind blowing in an onshore direction (from the sea towards the land) can cause the water to 'pile-up' against the coast; this is known as wind setup. Low atmospheric pressure is associated with storm systems and this tends to increase the surface sea level; this is a barometric setup. Finally increased wave breaking height results in a higher water level in the surf zone, which is wave setup. These three processes interact to create waves that can overtop natural and engineered coastal protection structures thus penetrating seawater further inland than normal.
Sea level rise
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate global mean sea-level rise from 1990 to 2100 to be between nine and eighty-eight centimetres. It is also predicted that with climate change there will be an increase in the intensity and frequency of storm events such as hurricanes. This suggests that coastal flooding from storm surges will become more frequent with sea level rise.
A rise in sea level alone threatens increased levels of flooding and permanent inundation of low-lying land as sea-level simply may exceed the land elevation. This, therefore, indicates that coastal flooding associated with sea-level rise will become a significant issue in the next 100 years especially as human populations continue to grow and occupy the coastal zone.
Sunny day flooding
The examples and perspective in this article or section might have an extensive bias or disproportional coverage towards one or more specific regions. (January 2019)
Tidal flooding, also known as sunny day flooding or nuisance flooding, is the temporary inundation of low-lying areas, especially streets, during exceptionally high tide events, such as at full and new moons. The highest tides of the year may be known as the king tide, with the month varying by location. These kinds of floods tend not to be a high risk to property or human safety, but further stress coastal infrastructure in low lying areas.
This kind of flooding is becoming more common in cities and other human-occupied coastal areas as sea level rise associated with climate change and other human-related environmental impacts such as coastal erosion and land subsidence increase the vulnerability of infrastructure. Geographies faced with these issues can utilize coastal management practices to mitigate the effects in some areas, but increasingly these kinds of floods may develop into coastal flooding that requires managed retreat or other more extensive climate change adaptation practices are needed for vulnerable areas.
Coastal areas can be significantly flooded as the result of tsunami waves which propagate through the ocean as the result of the displacement of a significant body of water through earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and glacier calvings. There is also evidence to suggest that significant tsunami have been caused in the past by meteor impact into the ocean. Tsunami waves are so destructive due to the velocity of the approaching waves, the height of the waves when they reach land, and the debris the water entrains as it flows over land can cause further damage.
Depending on the magnitude of the tsunami waves and floods, it could cause severe injuries which call for precautionary interventions that prevent overwhelming aftermaths. It was reported that more than 200,000 people were killed in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean, on December 26, 2004. Not to mention, several diseases are a result of floods ranging from hypertension to chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.
Reducing global sea-level rise is said to be one way to prevent significant flooding of coastal areas at present times and in the future. This could be minimised by further reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, even if significant emission decreases are achieved, there is already a substantial commitment to sea-level rise into the future. International climate change policies like the Kyoto Protocol are seeking to mitigate the future effects of climate change, including sea-level rise.
In addition, more immediate measures of engineered and natural defenses are put in place to prevent coastal flooding.
There are a variety of ways in which humans are trying to prevent the flooding of coastal environments, typically through so-called hard engineering structures such as flood barriers, seawalls and levees. That armouring of the coast is typical to protect towns and cities which have developed right up to the beachfront. Enhancing depositional processes along the coast can also help prevent coastal flooding. Structures such as groynes, breakwaters, and artificial headlands promote the deposition of sediment on the beach thus helping to buffer against storm waves and surges as the wave energy is spent on moving the sediments in the beach than on moving water inland.
The coast does provide natural protective structures to guard against coastal flooding. These include physical features like gravel bars and sand dune systems, but also ecosystems such as salt marshes and mangrove forests have a buffering function. Mangroves and wetlands are often considered to provide significant protection against storm waves, tsunamis, and shoreline erosion through their ability to attenuate wave energy. To protect the coastal zone from flooding, the natural defenses should, therefore, be protected and maintained.
As coastal flooding is typically a natural process, it is inherently difficult to prevent flood occurrence. If human systems are affected by flooding, an adaption to how that system operates on the coast through behavioral and institutional changes is required, these changes are the so-called non-structural mechanisms of coastal flooding response.
Building regulations, coastal hazard zoning, urban development planning, spreading the risk through insurance, and enhancing public awareness are some ways of achieving this. Adapting to the risk of flood occurrence can be the best option if the cost of building defense structures outweighs any benefits or if the natural processes in that stretch of coastline add to its natural character and attractiveness.
A more extreme and often difficult to accept the response to coastal flooding is abandoning the area (also known as managed retreat) prone to flooding. This however raises issues for where the people and infrastructure affected would go and what sort of compensation should/could be paid.
Social and economic impacts
The coastal zone (the area both within 100 kilometres distance of the coast and 100 metres elevation of sea level) is home to a large and growing proportion of the global population. Over 50 percent of the global population and 65 percent of cities with populations over five million people are in the coastal zone. In addition to the significant number of people at risk of coastal flooding, these coastal urban centres are producing a considerable amount of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
People's lives, homes, businesses, and city infrastructure like roads, railways, and industrial plants are all at risk of coastal flooding with massive potential social and economic costs. The recent earthquakes and tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 and in Japan in March 2011 clearly illustrate the devastation coastal flooding can produce. Indirect economic costs can be incurred if economically important sandy beaches are eroded resulting in a loss of tourism in areas dependent on the attractiveness of those beaches.
Top disasters by deaths in 2004
|Rank||Disaster||Month||Country||Number of Deaths|
|1||December 26 Tsunami||December||12 countries||226,408|
|10||Meningitis epidemic||January/March||Burkina Faso||527|
Coastal flooding can result in a wide variety of environmental impacts on different spatial and temporal scales. Flooding can destroy coastal habitats such as coastal wetlands and estuaries and can erode dune systems. These places are characterized by their high biological diversity therefore coastal flooding can cause significant biodiversity loss and potentially species extinctions. In addition to this, these coastal features are the coasts natural buffering system against storm waves; consistent coastal flooding and sea-level rise can cause this natural protection to be reduced allowing waves to penetrate greater distances inland exacerbating erosion and furthering coastal flooding.
Prolonged inundation of seawater after flooding can also cause salination of agriculturally productive soils thus resulting in a loss of productivity for long periods of time. Food crops and forests can be completely killed off by salination of soils or wiped out by the movement of floodwaters. Coastal freshwater bodies including lakes, lagoons, and coastal freshwater aquifers can also be affected by saltwater intrusion. This can destroy these water bodies as habitats for freshwater organisms and sources of drinking water for towns and cities.
Examples of existing coastal flooding issues include:
- Flood control in the Netherlands
- Floods in Bangladesh
- The Thames Barrier is one of the world's largest flood barriers and serves to protect London from flooding during exceptionally high tides and storm surges. The Barrier can be lifted at high tide to prevent sea waters flooding London and can be lowered to release stormwater runoff from the Thames catchment.
- Flooding of the low-lying coastal zone South Canterbury Plains in New Zealand can result in prolonged inundation, which can affect the productivity of the affected pastoral agriculture for several years.
Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans
Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a category 3 cyclone on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale, indicating that it had become an only moderate level storm. However, the catastrophic damage caused by the extensive flooding was the result of the highest recorded storm surges in North America. For several days prior to the landfall of Katrina, wave setup was generated by the persistent winds of the cyclonic rotation of the system. This prolonged wave set up coupled with the very low central pressure level meant massive storm surges were generated. Storm surges overtopped and breached the levees and floodwalls intended to protect the city from inundation. Unfortunately, New Orleans is inherently prone to coastal flooding for a number of factors. Firstly, much of New Orleans is below sea level and is bordered by the Mississippi River therefore protection against flooding from both the sea and the river has become dependent on engineered structures. Land-use change and modification to natural systems in the Mississippi River have rendered the natural defenses for the city less effective. Wetland loss has been calculated to be around 1,900 square miles (4,920 square kilometres) since 1930. This is a significant amount as four miles of wetland are estimated to reduce the height of a storm surge by one foot (30 centimeters).
2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami: An earthquake of approximately magnitude 9.0 struck off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia causing the propagation of a massive tsunami throughout the Indian Ocean. This tsunami caused significant loss of human life, an estimate of 280,000 – 300,000 people has been reported  and caused extensive damage to villages, towns, and cities and to the physical environment. The natural structures and habitats destroyed or damaged include coral reefs, mangroves, beaches, and seagrass beds. The more recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011 (2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami) also clearly illustrates the destructive power of tsunamis and the turmoil of coastal flooding.
There is a need for future research into:
- Management strategies for dealing with the forced abandonment of coastal settlements
- Quantifying the effectiveness of natural buffering systems, such as mangroves, against coastal flooding
- Better engineering design and practices or alternative mitigation strategies to engineering
- Coastal flood advisory, watch, warning (U.S.)
- Coastal management
- Flash flood
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- Saltwater intrusion
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Media files used on this page
A globe icon in the Ambox-content style. This icon is used for important issues relating to the world and for stating the bias of worldwide information.
New Orleans, Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (2005:08:29 17:24:22), showing Interstate 10 at West End Boulevard, looking towards Lake Pontchartrain.
The 17th Street Canal is just beyond the left edge of the image. The breach in the levee of that canal was responsible for much of the flooding of the city in the hours after the hurricane.
In the foreground, the intersection is the juncture of I-10, running from the bottom of the photo and curving out of the photo to the left, with the western end of I-610, which extends off the photo from the center right, and the West End entrance/exit from I-10.
The block shaped building at center left front is a pumping station, one of those used to pump water from heavy rains off city streets in more normal times.
The far eastern end of Veterans Memorial Boulevard is seen just back from the interchange extending to the left.
The view looks north toward Lake Pontchartrain. The stretch of ground with no buildings from the Interchange to the lake is Pontchartrain Blvd. (on the left) and West End Blvd. (on the right), with a linear park (formerly the route of the New Basin Canal) between them. Smoke can be seen rising near the lake, probably from the burning of the Southern Yacht Club building.
This photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows flooded roadways as the Coast Guard conducted initial Hurricane Katrina damage assessment overflights of New Orleans, Monday Aug. 29, 2005.Edit, selective noise reduction by Mfield
Author/Creator: B137, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Sunny day high tide nuisance flooding in en:Brickell, downtown Miami Florida. The morning high tide on October 17, 2016. Roughly 4.0 ft MLLW, +3 ft above MSL, 2 ft NAVD 88, about 1.75 feet MHHW for Miami, Virginia Key tide gauge. This location rounds to 0 meters/0 feet AMSL.
Indian Ocean (Jan. 2, 2005) – A village near the coast of Sumatra lies in ruins after the Tsunami that struck South East Asia. Helicopters assigned to Carrier Air Wing Two (CVW-2) and Sailors from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) are conducting humanitarian operations in the wake of the Tsunami that struck South East Asia. The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is currently operating in the Indian Ocean off the waters of Indonesia and Thailand. (South-West suburb of Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Village of Lampisang is visible in the upper-right corner) U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Philip A. McDaniel (RELEASED)
Satellite data 1993-2021 (January) Data source: Satellite sea level observations.
Storm Surge from Hurricane Carol on August 31, 1954
Flooding of coastal road along the Louisiana coast during Hurricane Lili in 2002 on Highway 1.
Author/Creator: Genetics4good, Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
Map showing the major cities (in terms of assets and population) that are under threat by the rising sea level. The cities indicated are under threat of even a small sea level rise (of 1.6 foot/49 cm) compared to the level in 2010). Even moderate projections indicate that such a rise will have occured by 2060
The top 20 cities in the world in terms of assets exposed to coastal flooding was marked in purple; additional cities that are in the top 20 in terms of population exposed to coastal flooding were marked in pink (there are only 27 cities on the whole map since these cities that have the largest amount of assets exposed to it also have the most people exposed to it).
The list of the top 20 cities exposed to coastal flooding is:
- Miami, USA
- Guangzhou, P.R. of China
- New York-Newark, USA
- Kolkata, India
- Shanghai, P.R. of China
- Mumbai, India
- Tianjin, P.R. of China
- Tokyo, Japan
- Hong Kong, P.R. of China
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Ningbo, P.R. of China
- New Orleans, USA
- Osaka-Kobe, Japan
- Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Rotterdam, The Netherlands
- Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Nagoya, Japan
- Qingdao, China
- Virginia Beach, USA
- Alexandria, Egypt
The list of 7 additional cities that are in the top 20 most-populous cities exposed to coastal flooding is:
Jordi Serra, EUROSION project