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In new research, an international team of scientists including USGS oceanographers utilized advanced global hydrodynamic and climate models to project the impact of a warming climate on storm surges—a significant threat to coastal regions.

Storm surge is the abnormal rise of water generated by storms, exceeding the predicted astronomical tides. The models, spanning recent decades and extending into 2050, reveal that projected storm surge impacts vary considerably across the globe. 

Coastal flooding, exacerbated by rising sea levels and evolving storm patterns, poses a growing risk to vulnerable regions and populations worldwide. To tease apart the complexities of this impending challenge, the research team employed highly detailed climate models with a spatial resolution of 25–50 kilometers (about 15.5-31 miles)—the first global projections of storm surges at such fine scales. 

The research team compared model outputs for the period 1985–2014 with real-world weather data, finding an overall agreement. However, the analysis also revealed substantial regional disparities, with certain areas exhibiting significantly larger or smaller storm-surge values than predicted. 

Looking ahead to 2021–2050, the projections paint a dynamic picture of storm surge evolution. While some areas, including the Mediterranean, northern Africa, and southern Australia, may experience a decrease in storm surges, others, such as South Australia, Alaska, the northern Caribbean, eastern Africa, China, and the Korean Peninsula, are poised for an increase. 

The results underscore the importance of localized assessments of the influence of climate change on storm surge. The adoption of advanced computer simulations allows scientists to make informed projections of future storm surge. This knowledge is crucial for policymakers, urban planners, and coastal communities worldwide as they navigate the challenges of a changing climate.

Figure showing global projections of storm surges using high-resolution climate models
Global map of storm surge levels corresponding to a 10-year return period. Panel a shows the ensemble median of the HighResMIP models for present epoch (1985–2014), while panel b shows the standard deviations. Panel c and d show, respectively, the bias (m) and the relative bias (%) of multi-model median in comparison with the ERA5 reanalysis for the same epoch. From the study Global projections of storm surges using high-resolution CMIP6 climate models.

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