Researchers win NYSERDA Award to Develop Online Flood Risk Assessment Tool for Hudson Valley

Professors at the Stevens Institute of Technology and the Earth Institute have received funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to develop an online risk assessment tool for communities in the Hudson Valley to help prepare for the risk of future flooding due to climate change.

Dr. Alan Blumberg

The $289,000 NYSERDA award went to Dr. Alan Blumberg and Dr. Philip Orton of the Center for Maritime Systems at Stevens Institute of Technology, in collaboration with Dr. Mark Becker of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

"This online tool being developed will help officials and citizens determine where potential flooding in the Hudson Valley could occur due to rising ocean levels and storm surges," said Francis J. Murray Jr., President and CEO, NYSERDA. "The project reflects a NYSERDA goal to examine environmental impacts from energy production, and illustrates the importance of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases."

Dr. Philip Orton

With a population of more than two million people, the lower Hudson Valley is one of the fastest growing regions in New York. At the same time, the region is increasingly vulnerable to the threat of flooding associated storm surge and heavy rain, as continuing sea level rise amplifies the destructive potential of strong storms.

"Decision makers need access to clear and accurate information to lead the most effective action and protect vulnerable coastal areas," says Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science. "This mapping tool will provide them with crucial real-time, actionable data so that they can properly allocate emergency resources, plan evacuations and outline post-storm response."

The researchers will contribute their expertise in modeling the region's waterways in order to help create an easy-to-use and free online mapping tool that details flood risk for communities bordering the lower Hudson River, from the southern border of Westchester County to the Federal Dam at Troy. This region is highly susceptible to storm surges and rainfall flooding associated with coastal storms, with transportation infrastructure such as rail, boats and marinas and wastewater treatment plants only a few yards above normal high tide levels.

This customized web application improves upon existing water-level information by taking into account the effects of rising sea levels, storm surges and heavy rain. It will merge all sources of flooding into a single model that allows for public officials, resources managers and citizens to select a particular region of interest, choose a flood scenario, and then visualize the impact on community resources. They will be able to download maps and summary statistics on structures, populations, and critical facilities affected by specific predicted flood events.

Sea Level Rise in New York

The project will benefit from and also help improve two existing resources - the New York Harbor Observing and Prediction System, and the Stevens Storm Surge Warning System. NYHOPS assesses ocean, weather, environmental, and vessel traffic conditions through the New York Harbor region, as well as contributing an advanced understanding of ocean physics, while the Stevens SSWS passes real-time water level data through sophisticated algorithms in order to predict surge levels and warn of an imminent flooding event.

"The Center for International Earth Science Information Network and the Water Center at Columbia University are pleased to collaborate with Dr. Blumberg and Dr. Orton," says Mark Becker, Associate Director of the Geospatial Applications Division of CIESIN. "By combining our resources and expertise, we are able to produce a more accurate and effectual modeling system."

Dr. Blumberg is a pioneer in ocean modeling who created the first widely-used ocean model, the Princeton Ocean Model. Dr. Orton researches estuary and ocean physics, evaluating the effects of storm surges on coastal environments.

Learn more about maritime research at Stevens by visiting the Center for Maritime Systems or reading the Maritime Systems issue of Nexus, the School of Science and Engineering Research Magazine. Start your own maritime journey at Stevens by visiting the Department of Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering, or visit Undergraduate Admissions or Graduate Admissions to apply.