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News Archive - 2013

IWR Climate and Global Change Team Lead Kathleen White Wins GreenGov Award

Big Island, Louisiana

IWR Climate and Global Change team lead Kathleen D. White, PhD, PE, was part of a team recognized a 2013 GreenGov Presidential Awards. The team was recognized for developing the Sea Level Rise Tool for Sandy Recovery, which is now being used in New York and New Jersey where planning and rebuilding is underway.

Left to right: Lieutenant General
Thomas P. Bostick (USACE Commanding General and Chief of Engineers), Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy (Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works), Kathleen D. White (USACE Institute for Water Resources), Mark Huber (USACE Army Geospatial Center).

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA. Institute for Water Resources (IWR) Climate and Global Change team lead Kathleen D. White, PhD, PE, was a part of a team recently recognized with one of President Obama's 2013 GreenGov Presidential Awards. The GreenGov Presidential Awards, which were announced November 5th in D.C., honor exceptional federal personnel, teams, projects and facilities, and programs that exemplify President Obama's charge to lead by example in sustainability.

Dr. White was a part of a team recognized for developing the Sea Level Rise Tool for Sandy Recovery, which is now being used in New York and New Jersey where planning and rebuilding is underway. The team also included Mark Huber of the Army Geospatial Center and representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The Sea Level Rise Tool incorporates the previously developed USACE sea-level rise calculator.

"The Institute, USACE and the entire federal water resources community are indeed fortunate to benefit from the skill and dedication of Dr. White, with her contributions to the advancement of USACE's ability to anticipate and adapt to global change representing a key success factor for the current and future Civil Works program," said IWR Director Robert Pietrowsky.

James Dalton, the USACE Headquarters Chief of Construction and Engineering, congratulated Dr. White, recognizing her hard work in support of Climate Change. "It's great that you and the interagency team have been recognized at such a high level. I'm extremely proud of you and grateful you're part of our team," he said.

Jeannette Fiess, Sustainability and Energy Program Manager for the USACE Northwestern Division, was also recognized with the Sustainability Hero Award. Ms. Fiess has been a sustainability champion and agent of change within USACE since 2003, serving as an advocate for training in sustainability related fields and has inspired others along the journey to sustainability.

USACE has six sustainability-related awards in its annual Chief of Engineers Awards of Excellence Program that are precursors to the GreenGov awards.

posted December 18, 2013


IWR Climate and Global Change Lead Spreads Word about Adapting to Climate Change

Kathleen D. White, PhD, Institute for Water Resources, Climate and Global Change Team

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA. Institute for Water Resources (IWR) Climate and Global Change Team lead Kate White, PhD, PE, was recently featured in the Society of Women Engineers' fall 2013 magazine for her insight and work in climate change adaptation. The article, "We Have Met the Future and It's up to Us," highlights viewpoints from three female engineers on the increase in concern for protecting coastlines and cities from the threats of climate change.

Dr. White, who is the senior lead for climate and global change for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), highlighted the USACE missions related to and affected by climate change, including USACE's responsibility protecting and managing the nation's water resources and civil and military infrastructure. "As a water agency, virtually everything we do is impacted by climate change," she said in the article.

Dr. White discussed how the USACE began recognizing changes in climate that were occurring, especially in snow-dominated watersheds in the west, and how the USACE focus on adaptation takes into consideration many specialists, from civil and geotechnical engineers to planners, economists and climate scientists. In 2007, Director of Civil Works Mr. Stephen L. Stockton, PE, directed that Dr. White and her colleague Dr. Rolf Olsen should begin to work together with other water resources agency representatives to develop a better understanding of the issues. "You have to get the whole picture before you take action, because with complex systems, there are many unintended consequences," she said in the article. Additionally, Dr. White discussed the importance of understanding how to plan for an uncertain future when dealing with the likely effects of climate change.

Highlighted in the article was how Hurricane Sandy became a turning point in public debate, changing the question from "Is climate change real?" to "How can we protect our coastlines from another super storm?" The article discussed how these questions were framed at different levels of government.

USACE frequently highlights the need for collaboration in facing the 21st century challenges of water management. This emphasis on collaboration is demonstrated in this article — Dr. White is working with two of the other women featured. She is a member of the interagency Climate Change Adaptation Community of Practice along with the Environmental Protection Agency's Leanne Nurse. She also worked with Leah Cohen of New York City on the Sandy Task Force Science Coordination Task Group.

Dr. White is the USACE representative on the Climate Change and Water Working Group (CCAWWG), a consortium of scientists from federal agencies with water management and climate change adaptation responsibilities. It is responsible for informing policy and preparing the U.S. to face climate change issues in years to come. Dr. White is also involved with several projects sponsored by the White House Council on Environmental Quality as well as other interagency groups.

posted November 21, 2013


"Hell and High Water: Practice-Relevant Adaptation Science" Published

An international team of climate and social scientists says a new approach to climate preparedness is essential to help people adjust to coming changes.

WASHINGTON, DC. — Global change is happening. Long-term, independent records from weather stations, satellites, ocean buoys, tide gauges, and many other data sources confirm that the U.S., like the rest of the world, is warming, precipitation patterns are changing, sea level is rising, and some types of extreme weather events are increasing.

Changes to the Earth’s climate are already affecting many aspects of society, including the built and natural environments. Across the U.S. and around the world, people are making decisions to minimize (mitigate) and prepare for (adapt to) global change impacts.

However, when considering options to reduce the risks from global change, decision makers need timely access to accurate and decision-relevant information. Decision makers need science to understand and envision a range of potential threats, impacts, risks, vulnerabilities, opportunities, and trade-offs so they can design, construct, and manage their adaptation and mitigation actions.

In this week’s, November 8, 2013, issue of the journal Science, an international group of researchers urge the continued development of the science needed to understand and manage climate risks and to capitalize on unexpected opportunities — giving an effective definition of adaptation research. The Policy Forum piece in Science describes four general challenges that can be addressed by adaptation research:

  • Understanding decision processes and knowledge requirements
  • Identifying vulnerabilities in society, the economy, and the environment
  • Improving forecasts and models that can address specific problems
  • Providing access to technology, management, and policy options for adapting.

The article grew out of conversations in a workshop held in August 2012 at the Aspen Global Change Institute in Aspen, CO, focused on improving the science and engineering support for decision-making under a changing climate.

“Successful adaptation research and applications will involve participants from multiple disciplines, including social and physical sciences, engineering, and urban planning to truly understand the information needs of decision makers working to create a more resilient nation,” said Jeff Arnold, Senior Scientist at the USACE Institute for Water Resources, and co-Director of the USACE Responses to Climate Change program. Jeff is also national co-chair of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s   Adaptation Science Interagency Working Group and a co-author of this article.

The President’s Executive Order 13653 on Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change (pdf, 1.7 MB) released earlier this month makes the suggestions in this article timely reminders of the many different components of adaptation research still needed to improve our understanding of and response to climate change threats and impacts.

Reference: R.H. Moss, G.A. Meehl, M.C. Lemos, J.B. Smith, J.R. Arnold, J.C. Arnott, D. Behar, G.P. Brasseur, S.B. Broomell, A.J. Busalacchi, S. Dessai, K.L. Ebi, J.A. Edmonds, J. Furlow, L. Goddard, H.C. Hartmann, J.W. Hurrell, J.W. Katzenberger, D.M. Liverman, P.W. Mote, S.C. Moser, A. Kumar, R.S. Pulwarty, E.A. Seyller, B.L. Turner II, W.M. Washington, T.J. Wilbanks. Hell and High Water: Practice-Relevant Adaptation Science, Science November 8, 2013, doi:10.1126/science.1239569. Available without a subscription from

posted November 12, 2013



Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures

Report Cover

Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures Report

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA. Coastal areas are especially vulnerable to hazards now and in the future posed by waves and surges associated with sea level change and coastal storms. There are a variety of approaches that can be used to reduce the risks of these hazards to coastal areas. This topic is the subject of intense interest following Hurricane Sandy.

"Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures," (pdf, 1.2 MB) a recently published paper, discusses this issue as well, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capabilities to assist in reducing risks posed to coastal areas and improve resilience to coastal hazards through an integrated planning approach that draws from the full array of coastal risk reduction measures.

Coastal risk reduction can be achieved through a variety of approaches, including natural or nature-based features (e.g., wetlands and dunes), nonstructural interventions (e.g., policies, building codes and emergency response such as early warning and evacuation plans), and structural interventions (e.g., seawalls and breakwaters).

"This report was prepared by a multidisciplinary team at the direction of the Directorate of Civil Works to clarify language used by the USACE to describe the full array of coastal risk reduction measures," Director of Civil Works Mr. Stephen L. Stockton said.

"This will help improve transparency and communications with our partners and stakeholders as we work together to address the increasing challenges posed by coastal storms and changing sea levels combined with aging infrastructure and a dynamic socioeconomic environment," Mr. Stockton said.

The USACE approach to coastal risk reduction measures considers the engineering attributes of the various measures (how do these help reduce vulnerabilities) and dependencies among features (how do they impact each other) over both the short- and long-term. USACE also considers the full range of environmental and social benefits produced by component features of each measure.

As discussed in the report, there has been a renewed interest in coastal risk reduction efforts that integrate the use of natural and nature-based features. This renewed interest reveals the need for improved quantification of the value and performance of nature-based defenses for coastal risk reduction.

Federal, state, local, non-governmental organization and private sector interests connected to our coastal communities possess a complementary set of authorities and capabilities for developing more integrated coastal systems. The effective implementation of an integrated approach to flood and coastal flood hazard mitigation relies on a collaborative, shared responsibility framework between Federal, state, and local agencies and the public.

The report is available through the Responses to Climate Change website. Report authors include Dr. Todd Bridges (USACE Engineer Research and Development Center), Roselle Henn (USACE North Atlantic Division), Shawn Komlos (Institute for Water Resources), Debby Scerno (USACE Directorate of Civil Works), Dr. Ty Wamsley (USACE Engineer Research and Development Center), and Dr. Kate White (Institute for Water Resources).

posted September 16, 2013

Natural and Nature-Based Features

Natural and Nature-Based Features

Nonstructural Measures

Nonstructural Measures

Structural Measures

Structural Measures



New Guidance Available for Use of Non-NOAA Tide Gauge Records to Compute Relative Sea Level Change

Photo of Observed Relative Sea Level Trends for USACE gauges in Southeast Louisiana. (Source: Atlas of U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Historic Daily Tide Data in Coastal Louisiana, Figure 8)
 Observed Relative Sea Level Trends for USACE gauges in Southeast Louisiana. (Source: Atlas of U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Historic Daily Tide Data in Coastal Louisiana, Figure 8)

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released new guidance for use of non-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tide gauge records for calculating relative sea level change.

The Engineering and Construction Bulletin (ECB) 2013-27 (pdf, 96 KB), issued September 9, 2013 and expiring September 9, 2015, outlines concepts and goals, provides guidance and introduces a tool, available on the Responses to Climate Change website, that can be used to estimate relative sea level change using long-term tide gauge records other than NOAA National Water Level Observation Network tide gauges.

The bulletin establishes a procedure to develop future relative sea-level rise scenarios from non-NOAA tide gauges approved for use by USACE in coastal areas where necessary to augment NOAA gauges. Examples of such long-term non-NOAA tide gauges are those operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) or the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). At this time, all such gauges are located in the state of Louisiana, but the area covered by the gauges is expected to increase during the next several years.

The guidance applies to all coastal Civil Works designs and studies that require computations of relative sea level change through augmentation of NOAA's National Water Level Observation Network (NLWON) tide gauges. An accompanying web tool that helps to compute relative sea level change is provided on the Responses to Climate Change website. The bulletin also includes an appendix with instructions for computing relative sea level change from long-term non-NOAA tide gauges that are not yet included in the web tool. This guidance alters instructions found in EC 1165-2-212.

Adaptation to sea level change is a critical component of USACE climate change resilience. Methods and tools such as the one introduced here help reduce uncertainty, improve consistency and simplify work processes. IWR's Climate and Global Change team played an instrumental role in the development of the bulletin.

The authors of the bulletin include William Veatch (MVN), Patrick O'Brien (ERDC-EL), Heidi Moritz (NWP), Mark Huber (AGC) and Kate White (IWR). Mark Huber (AGC) developed the web tool to accompany the guidance.

posted September 13, 2013

Integrated Tool to Estimate Potential Future Sea-Levels for Consideration in Sandy Recovery

Photo of Long Beach Island after Hurricane Sandy
 Long Beach Island
Sea Level Curve Illustration
 Curves using a global historic rate of 1.7 mm/year and a start year of 1992 based on USACE sea-level scenarios.

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA. More than 8 million people live in areas at risk of coastal flooding. Along the U.S. Atlantic Coast alone, almost 60 percent of the land that is within a meter of sea level is planned for further development, with inadequate information on the potential rates and amount of sea level rise.

Hurricane Sandy is a vivid reminder that coastal communities are vulnerable to the risk of damage from storms and flooding. This risk is strongly related to the type and location of infrastructure, particularly its elevation in relation to sea level. Sea level rise increases the frequency and severity of coastal flooding in manmade and natural systems, even if storm patterns remain the same.

Using the best available science and data, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and several Federal agencies through their partnership within the U.S. Global Research Program (USGCRP) have jointly developed tools to help state and local officials, community planners, and infrastructure managers understand possible future flood risks from sea level rise and use that information in planning decisions. IWR’s Climate and Global Change Team has been participating in these efforts.

Global sea level rise has been a persistent trend for decades. It is expected to continue beyond the end of this century, which will cause significant impacts in the United States. Scientists have very high confidence (greater than 90% chance) that global mean sea level will rise at least 8 inches (0.2 meter) and no more than 6.6 feet (2.0 meters) by 2100. Many of the nation's assets related to military readiness, energy, commerce and ecosystems that support resource-dependent economies are already located at or near the ocean, thus exposing them to risks associated with sea level rise.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has developed a Sea-Level Change Calculator to assist in developing information to support its sea-level change policy, which supports the USACE overarching climate change adaptation policy. This tool has been modified to support the interagency tool using National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC 2013) scenarios to help people rapidly assess what the coming changes could look like.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed Base Flood Elevations (BFEs) to provide additional flood risk information for certain communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. NOAA has produced a set of maps that present the FEMA BFEs plus the NOAA sea-level rise scenarios to the years 2050 and 2100 in all areas except New York City. The New York City Panel on Climate Change has developed sea level rise projections for the five boroughs of New York City to the year 2050 using methods from the 2013 NPCC report.

Together, these comprise the U.S. Government’s sea level rise planning tool, which provides information on future risk of coastal flooding in parts of New York and New Jersey impacted by Sandy. The tool does not tell communities or individuals how to rebuild. It helps inform decisions on how to balance the cost of rebuilding stronger and safer with the amount of risk a community can tolerate over the long term.

More about the U.S. Global Change Research Program

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is a Federal program that coordinates and integrates global change research across 13 government agencies to ensure that it most effectively and efficiently serves the Nation and the world. USGCRP was mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990, and has since made the world’s largest scientific investment in the areas of climate science and global change research.

posted August 29, 2013



Appropriate Application of Paleoflood Information for Hydrology and Hydraulics Decisions

Graphic of Appropriate Application of Paleoflood  Information for the Hydrology and Hydraulics Decisions of the U.S. Army Corps  of Engineers Report Cover

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) infrastructure, operations, safety and maintenance programs are facing growing stresses caused by aging infrastructure, hydrologic nonstationarity, urban growth, coastal development, evolving navigation and shipping practices, changing agricultural practices, and increasing recognition of the need for ecosystem restoration.

The Hydrology, Hydraulics, and Coastal (H,H,&C) Community of Practice frequently conducts studies and assessments that require a wide range of currently available data that can be applied to varying scales of economic and technical decisions. Practitioners continually search for additional information that can inform future decisions.

Utilizing paleoflood data for supporting the decisions of USACE hydrology and hydraulics (H&H) practitioners is the subject of a new investigation and report that synthesizes relevant literature and scientific findings related to USACE H&H assessments. Paleohydrology describes the evidence of the movement of water and sediment in stream channels before the time of continuous hydrologic records or direct measurements.

Appropriate Application of Paleoflood Information for the Hydrology and Hydraulics Decisions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (pdf, 2.62 MB) investigates utilization of geologically obtained and hydrologically transformed paleoflood data in both the relatively recent past (50-500 years) to the very distant past (500-10,000 years). It presents reasonable conclusions and recommendations about the use of such data with respect to the decisions faced by the USACE H&H community.

The main conclusions of the report are:

  • The utility of paleoflood information should be considered with respect to the H&H decision at hand, including both the policy and the technical requirements of that decision.
  • For situations where paleoflood data is potentially useful to H&H decisions, the resources necessary to conduct the investigation should be weighed against the underlying uncertainties and assumptions.
  • Paleofloods can provide direct and useful information about stage histories and can be used, given cautions, to estimate discrete event discharge values. However, there is limited evidence to support using paleoflood information to estimate a series of hydrologic events with multiple peaks, flood volumes or durations.
  • Paleoflood information is less useful if it is meant to inform a portfolio of projects or compare locations across a wide geographic region that has varied terrain and geological contexts.

Paleoflood information is not relevant for all H&H decisions. For example, if the decision leads to the design or modification of a high hazard dam, then the utility of paleoflood information is minimal, as the current design standard is based on the “Probable Maximum Floods” standard. Paleoflood information is largely site specific. USACE is responsible for many very large facilities that have been altered through time, either by geologic or anthropogenic processes. These facilities are not suitable for paleoflood analysis.

The report was written by David Raff, who is a member of the USACE IWR Climate and Global Change team. It is part of a larger effort to explore processes, methods and guidance for hydrology used in climate change impact assessments and adaptation planning and design.

posted February 28, 2013



Interagency Report Published on Information Required for Short-Term Water Management Decisions

Graphic of Addressing Climate  Change in Long-Term Water Resources Planning and Management Report Cover

WASHINGTON, DC. Adapting to future climate change impacts requires capabilities in hydroclimate monitoring, short-term prediction and application of such information to support contemporary water management decisions.

These needs were identified in a report, "Short-Term Water Management Decisions: User Needs for Improved Climate, Weather, and Hydrologic Information," published by the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. IWR’s Climate and Global Change team contributed to the report.

The report identifies how Federal agencies, along with state, local, tribal and non-governmental organizations and agencies are working together to identify and respond to the needs of water resource managers in the face of a changing climate. The report is broken into four categories: Monitoring Product Needs, Forecasting Product Needs, Understanding and Using Information Products in Water Management, and Information Services Enterprise.

"Climate change is adding to the challenges we face in managing a multitude of issues, including water supply, water quality, flood risk, wastewater, aquatic ecosystems, and energy production," Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor said. "Meeting these challenges requires close collaboration among water resource management agencies, operational information service providers, stakeholders and the scientific community."

"This document describes the short-term needs of the water management community for monitoring and forecast information and tools to support operational decisions," said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works Steven L. Stockton. "Large water resources systems with water supply goals have very different needs from smaller systems that primarily service flood control purposes. Because of those differences, having a unified report such as this one communicates not only the national-level water resource needs but the local interactions between the water resource management agencies and the weather, climate and hydrologic service and information providers."

Technical specialists from the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation with NOAA’s National Weather Service prepared the report as part of the Climate Change and Water Working Group. It is the second in a series of reports from the working group.

The first report, "Addressing Climate Change in Long-Term Water Resources Planning and Management," was issued in January 2011.

The Short-Term Water Management Decisions report is available online at


posted February 9, 2013


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