Living with Sea Level Rise in the Texas Coastal Bend

Principal Investigator

This project will seek to determine where in the Coastal Bend region of Texas the best alternatives for addressing sea level rise (SLR) and improving resilience are Natural and Nature-based Features (NNBF). This will involve both an understanding of how local SLR impacts human activities and the efficacy of various NNBF in creating more resilient conditions. Local variation across this region means various scales and approaches in implementing NNBF will be needed. It is also important to find synergy among approaches to improve resiliency, such as using multiple lines of defense. This project will make these determinations by modeling the effects of SLR and future hurricane surges with and without resiliency strategies implemented. To enable this analysis, the proposed project will improve and adapt the Hydro-MEM SLR model to the study area of the Texas Coastal Bend and improve model performance through improving bare earth Digital Elevation Models (DEM) in coastal vegetation. Furthermore, this project will proceed in collaboration with a Management Transition Advisory Group (MTAG) that includes representatives from local, regional, and state groups involved in coastal resiliency planning.

The goals of the project are the following:
• Improve and adapt Hydro-MEM to the Texas Coastal Bend
• Assess SLR vulnerabilities and NNBF efficacy using Hydro-MEM and SLAMM as
appropriate
• Form a collaborative MTAG and co-produce a knowledge base for modeling and
assessing SLR resiliency in the region

The six-county Coastal Bend of Texas is a system of barrier islands, lagoons, estuaries, plains, and rivers on a low-lying and subsiding coastal plain. Embedded in this natural and dynamic system are a variety of human developments and activities including oil and gas production, heavy industry, shipping, commercial and recreational fishing, agriculture, tourism, and communities dotted throughout the landscape. SLR has had a significant impact on this coupled natural-human system and will continue to do so as more industry and people are added to the area. The region includes the growing Corpus Christi Metro Area and the Port of Corpus Christi, a major gateway to international and domestic maritime commerce and the No. 1 oil exporting port in the United States. Regional decision-makers are particularly aware of coastal resilience challenges facing the area, particularly after 2017’s Hurricane Harvey caused massive destruction from which communities are still recovering. SLR impacts are evident in this region because of estuarine tide ranges of less than 0.3 m, low sediment supplies, imperiled
development, and land subsidence causing the rate of relative SLR to be greater than the global mean. The amount and type of impact varies, however, depending on geomorphic and socioeconomic setting. Geologic setting creates variations in topography, slope, wave exposure, and sediment supply that influences if bay margin environments transition upward or shorelines retreat under SLR. Socio-economic setting varies from a major port with sea walls and a large population center to bayside towns with marinas and small fishing fleets. Agricultural and large tracks of protected lands also border the bays.