Published in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussion, 2022
Coastal backwater effects are caused by the downstream water level increase as the result of elevated sea level, high river discharge and their compounding influence. Such effects have crucial impacts on floods in densely populated regions but have not been well represented in large-scale river models used in Earth System Models (ESMs), partly due to model mesh deficiency and oversimplifications of river hydrodynamics. Using two mid-Atlantic river basins as a testbed, we perform the first attempt to simulate the backwater effects comprehensively over a coastal region using the MOSART river transport model under an Earth system model framework i.e., Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM) configured on a regionally-refined unstructured mesh, with a focus on understanding the backwater drivers and their long-term variations. By including sea level variations at the river downstream boundary, the model performance in capturing backwaters is greatly improved. We also propose a new flood event selection scheme to facilitate the decomposition of backwater drivers into different components. Our results show that while storm surge is a key driver, the influence of extreme discharge cannot be neglected, particularly when the river drains to a narrow river-like estuary. Compound flooding, while not necessarily increasing the flood peaks, exacerbates the flood risk by extending the duration of multiple coastal and fluvial processes. Furthermore, our simulations and analysis highlight the increasing strength of backwater effects due to sea level rise and more frequent storm surge during 1990–2019. Thus, backwaters need to be properly represented in ESMs for improving predictive understanding of coastal flooding.
Recommended citation: Feng, D., Tan, Z., Engwirda, D., Liao, C., Xu, D., Bisht, G., Zhou, T., Li, H.-Y., and Leung, R.: Investigating coastal backwater effects and flooding in the coastal zone using a global river transport model on an unstructured mesh, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss. [preprint], https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2022-251, in review, 2022. http://changliao.github.io/files/2022/backwater_hess.pdf