Hydrodynamics, sea level rise, coastal morphology, gulf of mexico


Sea level rise (SLR) has the potential to affect coastal environments in a multitude of ways, including submergence, increased flooding, and increased shoreline erosion. Low-lying coastal environments such as the Northern Gulf of Mexico (NGOM) are particularly vulnerable to the effects of SLR, which may have serious consequences for coastal communities as well as ecologically and economically significant estuaries. Evaluating potential changes in tidal hydrodynamics under SLR is essential for understanding impacts to navigation, ecological habitats, infrastructure and the morphologic evolution of the coastline. The intent of this research is to evaluate the dynamic effects of SLR and coastal geomorphology on tidal hydrodynamics along the NGOM and within three National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs), namely Grand Bay, MS, Weeks Bay, AL, and Apalachicola, FL. An extensive literature review examined the integrated dynamic effects of SLR on low gradient coastal landscapes, primarily in the context of hydrodynamics, coastal morphology, and marsh ecology. Despite knowledge of the dynamic nature of coastal systems, many studies have neglected to consider the nonlinear effects of SLR and employed a simplistic “bathtub” approach in SLR assessments. More recent efforts have begun to consider the dynamic effects of SLR (e.g., the nonlinear response of hydrodynamics under SLR); however, little research has considered the integrated feedback mechanisms and co-evolution of multiple interdependent systems (e.g., the nonlinear responses and interactions of hydrodynamics and coastal morphology under SLR). Synergetic approaches that integrate the dynamic interactions between physical and ecological environments will allow for more comprehensive evaluations of the impacts of SLR on coastal systems. Projecting future morphology is a challenging task; various conceptual models and statistical methods have been employed to project future shoreline positions. Projected shoreline change rates from a conceptual model were compared with historic shoreline change rates from two databases along sandy shorelines of the. South Atlantic Bight and NGOM coasts. The intent was not to regard one method as superior to another, but rather to explore similarities and differences between the methods and offer suggestions for projecting shoreline changes in SLR assessments. The influence of incorporating future shoreline changes into hydrodynamic modeling assessments of SLR was evaluated for the NGOM coast. Astronomic tides and hurricane storm surge were simulated under present conditions, the projected 2050 sea level with present-day shorelines, and the projected 2050 sea level with projected 2050 shorelines. Results demonstrated that incorporating shoreline changes had variable impacts on the hydrodynamics; storm surge was more sensitive to the shoreline changes than astronomic tides. It was concluded that estimates of shoreline change should be included in hydrodynamic assessments of SLR along the NGOM. Evaluating how hydrodynamics have been altered historically under a changing landscape in conjunction with SLR can provide insight to future changes. The Grand Bay estuary has undergone significant landscape changes historically. Tidal hydrodynamics were simulated for present and historic conditions (dating back to 1848) using a hydrodynamic model modified with unique sea levels, bathymetry, topography, and shorelines representative of each time period. Changes in tidal amplitudes varied across the domain. Harmonic constituent phases sped up from historic conditions. Tidal velocities in the estuary were stronger historically, and reversed from being flood dominant in 1848 to ebb dominant in 2005. To project how tidal hydrodynamics may be altered under future scenarios along the NGOM and within the three NERRs, a hydrodynamic model was used to simulate present (circa 2005) and future (circa 2050 and 2100) astronomic tides. The model was modified with projections of future sea levels as well as shoreline positions and dune elevations obtained from a Bayesian network (BN) model. Tidal amplitudes within some of the embayments increased under the higher SLR scenarios; there was a high correlation between the change in the inlet cross-sectional area under SLR and the change in the tidal amplitude within each bay. Changes in harmonic constituent phases indicated faster tidal propagation in the future scenarios within most of the bays. Tidal velocities increased in all of the NERRs which altered flood and ebb current strengths. The work presented herein improves the understanding of the response of tidal hydrodynamics to morphology and SLR. This is beneficial not only to the scientific community, but also to the management and policy community. These findings will have synergistic effects with a variety of coastal studies including storm surge and biological assessments of SLR. In addition, findings can benefit monitoring and restoration activities in the NERRs. Ultimately, outcomes will allow coastal managers and policy makers to make more informed decisions that address specific needs and vulnerabilities of each particular estuary, the NGOM coastal system, and estuaries elsewhere with similar conditions.


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Graduation Date





Hagen, Scott


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering

Degree Program

Civil Engineering








Release Date

November 2015

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Engineering and Computer Science; Engineering and Computer Science -- Dissertations, Academic