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NSF funds wave-ice-ocean research along Arctic Coast

August 16, 2018

 Nirnimesh Kumar Jim Thomson

It’s a hot topic, considering that ice is involved. With Arctic coastlines quickly eroding, a team of UW researchers has received $1 million from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs to investigate how the interactions of waves, sea ice and the ocean can affect coastal flooding. The researchers plan to use their findings to improve the accuracy of climate models, to help inform more strategic climate policy decisions. 

“There has been a lot of recent work documenting the erosion along the coast in this region, but the connection to the forcing conditions from the ocean has been missing,” said CEE associate professor Jim Thomson.  “We’re excited to explore this connection and develop a model that the research community can use going forward.”

Focusing on the northern coast of Alaska, where coastlines are quickly eroding at rates of meters per year, CEE faculty researchers Jim Thomson and Nirnimesh Kumar will study the impact of reduced sea ice on ocean waves and the subsequent effects on shorelines. These processes can exacerbate coastal flooding as the ocean distance, or fetch, over which the wind blows increases, and powerful waves are generated.

Applying field observations they will gather using custom instrumentation built by Thomson’s group at the UW Applied Physics Lab, together with recent progress in process-based modeling of coastal dynamics, the researchers plan to create an open-source modeling system that includes test cases for the northern Alaska coastal zone. To test the model’s accuracy, they will conduct a 20-year hindcast by inputting data for past events into the model to evaluate if the output matches known results.

The researchers hope the new modeling system will enhance basic research, public infrastructure planning, climate scenario assessment and policymaking. The team will also conduct public outreach including K-12 events such as UW College of Engineering’s Discovery Days and Pacific Science Center’s Polar Science Weekend.