Research & Innovation

Stevens Researchers Win NASA Grant to Investigate Severe Weather Threats to New York City

Extreme weather events that can devastate populations have been occurring more frequently over the last decade, and that trend that is expected to persist as the climate continues to change. Coastal cities are particularly vulnerable to such events because of the combination of dense populations and the dual hazard from the sea as well as sky. Dr. Alan Blumberg and Dr. Philip Orton of the Center for Maritime Systems at Stevens Institute of Technology, in collaboration with Timothy Hall from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), have received a NASA grant to assess the risks to our cities with an innovative and rigorous methodology.

“Our coastal cities are not only home to millions of people, but they represent the maritime trade centers through which the vast majority of the goods we buy and use are transported,” says Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science. “This research helps us to quantify and convey in concrete terms the hazards of extreme weather and climate events so that we can develop effective solutions to protect those areas.”

Their research takes a novel approach to the question of hazard assessment, laying out the probability of flooding in the New York City area in a systematic manner that examines every contributing factor. It studies ocean storm surge, rainfall, river flow, sea level rise, and atmospheric pressure in order to comprehensively understand the risks associated with flooding in the area under climate change conditions.

Uniquely, the researchers are using statistical hurricane models that include wind, atmospheric pressure, and rainfall to quantify flood probabilities. They are not just looking at a few sample storms, but they are also assessing probability by studying the statistics of all recorded hurricanes in the Atlantic. Hurricanes have occurred very sparsely around New York City in the last hundred years (the last Category 2 hurricane occurred in 1821), so they are looking more broadly at tens of thousands of years of statistical “synthetic” storms in order to answer a pressing question: is a powerful hurricane a 100, 500, or 1000-year event, and is the next one on the horizon?

This work is part of a larger initiative in climate change research to understand how the coasts of the United States will change in terms of flooding and damage from storms, and to plan for adaptive or preventative action. There is often speculation in the media that building structures such as islands and land bridges will help to protect the city from storms, and this research will help to quantify the results of such undertakings.  In addition to their own efforts, the researchers are teaching students about the topic and engaging them in the redesign of the area’s waterways to reduce storm surges. They test out coastal adaptation measures within the research model that will hopefully protect the city from extreme flooding due to a hurricane.

The researchers are using a prominent mathematical model of the equations that govern how water moves, which was developed and refined at Stevens and now used around the world. The model is used in the New York Harbor Observing and Prediction System (NYHOPS), which is based at Stevens and forecasts storm surges, water currents, water temperature, water levels, and waves.

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.