Gulf of Mexico

If a hurricane similar to Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast 40 years from now, what would happen?

What if low-lying Gulf Coast communities could gauge the impact of future storms? Well, now there’s an app for that.

Under the direction of Dr. Jorge Brenner, associate director of marine science, The Nature Conservancy in Texas has developed a web portal and series of tools that will help coastal managers, scientists, the conservation community and people within the Gulf of Mexico Governor’s Alliance predict how hurricanes, storm surges and sea level will affect their cities and coastal habitats in the future. Nearly 90 years into the future, to be exact; this online tool utilizes maps and models along with different inundation levels, ranging from a few inches to several feet, to assess coastal conditions in the years 2025, 2050, 2075 and 2100.

Brenner and his team ran analysis in five different locations in three different Gulf Coast states:

  • Galveston Bay area and southern Jefferson County, Texas: As the largest bay system in Texas, Galveston Bay encompasses 1.4 million acres and spans six different counties. The area is situated in the northern portion of the Texas east coast and includes drainage of the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers.
  • Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Mississippi: The GBNERR spans 18,400 acres in far southeast Mississippi, adjacent to the Alabama border in the Mississippi Sound. It was established in 1999 to promote estuarine research and education within Mississippi's Coastal Zone.
  • Corpus Christi Bay, Texas: The bay is located in the coastal bend region of Texas and encompasses the City of Corpus Christi, Padre island and Port Aransas, among other localities. This study area was chosen because it will help us understand the impacts of the flooding of the Nueces River Delta area and the Padre and Mustang Barrier Islands.
  • Choctawhatchee Bay and St. Andrews Bay, Florida: Located in the Emerald Coast region of the Florida Panhandle, these bays are loosely bordered by Pensacola Bay to the northwest and Apalachicola Bay to the southeast. Panama City is a major city located within St. Andrews Bay, while the popular vacation spots of Destin and Fort Walton Beach sit along Choctawhatchee Bay.

Such a tool couldn’t come at a better time; the Gulf of Mexico is a workhorse, pumping more than $230 billion a year into our national economy and supporting upwards of 20 million jobs. If the five Gulf Coast states (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida) were considered a country, they would comprise the seventh largest economy in the world. But despite the region’s economic power, we’ve seen the devastation Mother Nature can bring.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts sea rise of three millimeters per year in the Gulf of Mexico, an important factor in future storm preparedness. The results of Brenner’s model, along with scenario maps and online tools, link to the Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico Resilience Decision Support Tool, and this suite of tools can, in turn, be can be combined with geographic information systems data to understand the impacts of those rising sea levels.

Read peer-reviewed publications about this work here and here.