USA - Engineering with Nature to Face Down Hurricane Hazards
Natural and engineered nature-based structures offer promise for storm-related disaster risk reduction and flood mitigation, as long as researchers can adequately monitor and study them.
The 2020 and 2021 Atlantic tropical storm seasons were extremely busy, ranking as the first and third most active on record, respectively. Thirty named storms occurred in 2020 alone, with 11 making landfall in the United States (a record) and 13 making landfall elsewhere (also a record) around the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and even Portugal (a first). The 2021 Atlantic season produced another 21 named storms. The 2022 season, which ended officially on 30 November, was closer to average, producing 14 named storms, although several—Hurricane Ian especially—caused extensive damage.
In addition to direct impacts of episodic tropical storms, much of the coastal Atlantic region increasingly has experienced extreme rainfall, storm surges, and even fair-weather inundation exacerbated by sea level rise. Such compound weather-related disasters reveal new and heightened vulnerabilities affecting broad swaths of people, particularly in marginalized and underserved communities.
Protecting coastal communities from the effects (and aftereffects) of repeated pummeling by tropical storms and other disasters requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, with contributions from physical, biological, chemical, and social scientists as well as from engineers, policymakers, and community members. Building this resilience also requires new solutions.
Much of the needed innovation to meet the challenges of natural disasters will come from modern engineering expertise. Yet nature itself provides time-tested examples of resilience and recovery from which we can learn.
Much of the needed innovation to meet the challenges of natural disasters will come from modern engineering expertise. Yet nature itself provides time-tested examples of resilience and recovery from which we can learn. Natural and nature-based features (NNBFs) can support coastal resilience and mitigate flood risk while providing ecosystem services. Berms and dunes, for instance, are nature-based features that can be engineered or enhanced along coastlines to minimize flooding and storm damage in communities and to achieve ecosystem restoration goals.
Understanding how NNBFs perform under extreme hydrometeorological hazards and in other natural disasters in comparison with traditional infrastructure is critical. This understanding requires thorough monitoring across the life cycles of disaster events, including data on conditions before, during, and after, which allow researchers to evaluate how physically effective and cost-effective NNBF projects are in achieving their intended purposes, whether they involve coastal engineering, sustainable management, wetland restoration, or natural hazard reconnaissance. But collecting these data presents major challenges.