Fighting Flooding in Coastal Communities

Fighting Flooding in Coastal Communities

Research Highlight with Dr. Matthew Bilskie

As flood hazards and risks increase over time due to climate change and increased development in flood zones, UGA researchers seek new ways to both predict future flood risks and address those risks through new technologies.

Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems researcher Dr. Matthew V. Bilskie, assistant professor in the College of Engineering, is working to understand how natural- and nature-based infrastructure can mitigate flooding and reduce wave energy in coastal communities.

“My research focus is on the development and application of coastal inundation models. I am excited about the future opportunities to improve our country’s coastal infrastructure, while mimicking nature and enhancing aesthetic and biodiversity,” Bilskie said of his work.

Not only does natural infrastructure, including living shorelines, wetlands and oyster reefs, provide benefits for communities and ecosystems, such as creating recreation opportunities for communities and providing habitat for economically important species, but it is also an effective tool in preventing flood damage.

For example, a study published in the well-respected journal Nature found that wetlands alone had a cost savings of $625 million in prevented damage during Hurricane Sandy (Narayan et al. 2017).

Bilskie’s research on the topic began during his PhD, which he spent examining trends in landscape changes over time and associated impacts to flooding.

“While doing this research, it became apparent that new advancements were needed to forecast flood hazards into the future. Specifically, we needed to know how climate change alters the frequency and magnitude of flooding, and the cascading impacts on coastal ecosystems and communities,” Bilskie explained.

His work began to merge with IRIS’ mission to promote nature-based engineering as Bilskie sought new ways to mitigate flood hazard impacts.

Now, he incorporates natural infrastructure into his models as he works to understand coastal flooding and the potential ways to manage it into the future.

“We use high-performance computers to understand the physics of oceanic and nearshore circulation, with the hope that by laying down foundational knowledge about how these things work, myself and future researchers will be able to pinpoint the best flood mitigation strategies,” Bilskie said.

In a world where flood risks continue to grow in their threat to coastal communities, this work has life-saving potential.

“This work can alter the paradigm in how the US and other countries mitigate coastal and riverine flood hazards and risk beyond traditional engineered infrastructure. Sea level rise and storms are occurring now, and we need to figure out the best ways to live with water.”

This research was made possible thanks to its funding sources through the USGS, NOAA, and ESLR. In addition, Bilskie would like to thank his collaborators: post-doctoral researcher Hithaishi Hewageengana, Master’s student Sheppard Medlin, and colleagues Dr. Brian Bledsoe (IRIS), Dr. Brock Woodson (IRIS), and Dr. Amanda Tritinger (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

References:

Narayan, S., Beck, M.W., Wilson, P. et al. The Value of Coastal Wetlands for Flood Damage Reduction in the Northeastern USA. Sci Rep 7, 9463 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-09269-z

Writer: Sarah Buckleitner

Contact: Dr. Matt Bilskie