Projections of extreme water level events for atolls in the western Tropical Pacific

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 9:00 AM
Mark A Merrifield1, Janet M Becker1, Murray Ford2 and Yu Yao1, (1)University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, United States, (2)University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Conditions that lead to extreme water levels and coastal flooding are examined for atolls in the Republic of the Marshall Islands based on a recent field study of wave transformations over fringing reefs, tide gauge observations, and wave model hindcasts. Wave-driven water level extremes pose the largest threat to atoll shorelines, with coastal levels scaling as approximately one-third of the incident breaking wave height. The wave-driven coastal water level is partitioned into a mean setup, low frequency oscillations associated with cross-reef quasi-standing modes, and wind waves that reach the shore after undergoing high dissipation due to breaking and bottom friction. All three components depend on the water level over the reef; however, the sum of the components is independent of water level due to cancelling effects. Wave hindcasts suggest that wave-driven water level extremes capable of coastal flooding are infrequent events that require a peak wave event to coincide with mid- to high-tide conditions. Interannual and decadal variations in sea level do not change the frequency of these events appreciably. Future sea-level rise scenarios significantly increase the flooding threat associated with wave events, with a nearly exponential increase in flooding days per year as sea level exceeds 0.3 to 1.0 m above current levels.