Friday, March 15, 2013

New flood map displays areas impacted by sea level rise

A new online tool created by University researchers will help inform the public about critical sea level increases and flooding hazards in New Jersey.

Following years of study accompanied by surveys and testing which began in 2009, University researchers released the user-friendly website, said Lisa Auermuller, watershed and outreach coordinator for the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve.

The creators of the website concentrated on applying digital map-making to site-specific information about landscapes to help town and county decision-makers, said Richard Lathrop Jr., director of Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis.

Lathrop, a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, said the interactive website’s visualization tools illustrate the impact of sea level rises from 1 to 6 feet on user-selected areas in the state.

The site also demonstrates the confidence level, or amount of certainty, in the mapping itself for a particular area in relation to expected flooding, he said.

Populations most vulnerable to flooding were also of great importance to the study, Lathrop said. The creators examined factors including the socioeconomic status and mobility of age groups.

He said they incorporated the locations of facilities such as schools, fire stations and hospitals in their maps.

Street-level views of selected locations are also available on the website, he said. These photos simulate what different sea level would look like on the ground.

Lathrop said the locations selected were based on landmarks that had meaning to the surrounding community and provided valuable perspectives.

“Although the public is not our target audience, [I believe] there is real value in the public understanding the risk and vulnerability [associated with sea level rise and flooding hazards],” Auermuller said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology and Sustainable Jersey funded the project, among others, Lathrop said.

Together with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal Service Center, Lathrop and his partners designed the site with their target audiences in mind, Auermuller said.

His foundation, Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis, focuses on geographic information systems.

“When it comes to GIS … [Lathrop] is a valuable [specialist],” said Martha Maxwell-Doyle, project coordinator at the Barnegat Bay Partnership.

The project was a long-term planning effort and a starting point for the application of this particular technology, Lathrop said. His initial expectations for this project have been met, and what remains to be seen is how the website is used. More