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  1. Abstract

    High tide floods (HTFs) are minor, shallow flooding events whose frequency has increased due to relative sea‐level rise (SLR) and secular changes in tides. Here we isolate and examine the role of historical landscape change (geomorphology, land cover) and SLR on tides and HTF frequency in an urbanized lagoonal estuary: Jamaica Bay, New York. The approach involves data archeology, historical (1870s) map digitization, as well as numerical modeling of the bay. Numerical simulations indicate that a century of landscape alterations (e.g., inlet deepening and widening, channel deepening, and wetland reclamation) increased the mean tidal range at the head of the bay by about 20%. The observed historical shift from the attenuation to amplification of semidiurnal tides is primarily associated with reduced tidal damping at the inlet and increased tidal reflection. The 18% decrease in surface area exerts a minor influence. A 1‐year (2020) water level simulation is used to evaluate the effects of both SLR and altered morphology on the annual number of HTFs. Results show that of 15 “minor flood” events in 2020, only one would have occurred without SLR and two without landscape changes since the 1870s. Spectral and transfer function analyses of water level reveal frequency‐dependent fingerprints of landscape change, with a significant decrease in damping for high‐frequency surges and tides (6–18 hr time scale). By contrast, SLR produced only minor effects on frequency‐dependent amplification. Nonetheless, the geomorphic influence on the dynamical response significantly increases the vulnerability of the system to SLR, particularly high‐tide flooding.

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  2. Abstract

    Little is known about the effect of tidal changes on minor flooding in most lagoonal estuaries, often due to a paucity of historical records that predate landscape changes. In this contribution, we recover and apply archival tidal range data to show that the mean tidal range in Miami, Florida, has almost doubled since 1900, from 0.32 to 0.61 m today. A likely cause is the dredging of a ∼15 m deep, 150 m wide harbor entrance channel beginning in the early 20th century, which changed northern Biscayne Bay from a choked inlet system to one with a tidal range close to coastal conditions. To investigate the implications for high‐tide flooding, we develop and validate a tidal‐inference based methodology that leverages estimates of pre‐1900 tidal range to obtain historical tidal predictions and constituents. Next, water level predictions that represent historical and modern water level variations are projected forward in time using different sea level rise scenarios. Results show that the historical increase in tidal range hastened the occurrence of present‐day flooding, and that the total integrated number of days with high‐tide floods in the 2020–2100 period will be approximately O(103) more under present day tides compared to pre‐development conditions. These results suggest that tidal change may be a previously under‐appreciated factor in the increasing prevalence of high‐tide flooding in lagoonal estuaries, and our methods open the door to improving our understanding of other heavily‐altered systems.

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