Assessing the Effects of Storm Surge Barriers on the Hudson River Estuary

  • Coastal cities are increasingly vulnerable to massive flooding during extreme storms as a result of climate change. Flooding in Hoboken, NJ, October 2012. Photo credit: US Army Corps of Engineers.

    Coastal cities are increasingly vulnerable to massive flooding during extreme storms as a result of climate change. Flooding in Hoboken, NJ, October 2012. Photo credit: US Army Corps of Engineers.

  • Gated storm surge barriers are one option to protect people and property. They typically span the opening of a harbor or river mouth, with gates that close when storm surge is expected. This artist rendering shows a surge gate being considered in the New York-New Jersey harbor.

    Gated storm surge barriers are one option to protect people and property. They typically span the opening of a harbor or river mouth, with gates that close when storm surge is expected. This artist rendering shows a surge gate being considered in the New York-New Jersey harbor.

  • However, barrier structures reduce water flow and tidal exchange. They can impact water quality and ecological processes in estuaries and wetlands. The New Jersey Bight Ecosystem, graphic from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

    However, barrier structures reduce water flow and tidal exchange. They can impact water quality and ecological processes in estuaries and wetlands. The New Jersey Bight Ecosystem, graphic from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

  • To better understand how a proposed surge barrier would affect the Hudson River estuary, scientists and community partners came together to develop a collaborative research agenda.

    To better understand how a proposed surge barrier would affect the Hudson River estuary, scientists and community partners came together to develop a collaborative research agenda.

  • In a series of workshops, scientists and project partners shared information about the physical effects of storm surge barriers and analyzed potential effects to the Hudson.

    In a series of workshops, scientists and project partners shared information about the physical effects of storm surge barriers and analyzed potential effects to the Hudson.

  • The project enhanced collaboration for expanded studies and established a future research agenda for surge barrier effects on tidal marshes. Photo was taken in Iona Islands Wetlands, NY by Ben Von Klemperer.

    The project enhanced collaboration for expanded studies and established a future research agenda for surge barrier effects on tidal marshes. Photo was taken in Iona Islands Wetlands, NY by Ben Von Klemperer.

Coastal cities around the world are exploring structural engineering options to defend against extreme storms and the resulting surge of ocean water that can lead to massive flooding. Storm surge barriers or tide gates can minimize flooding and protect people and property during large storms. These barriers typically span the opening of a harbor or river mouth and include gates that are closed only when storm surges are expected. However, even when gates are open, barriers reduce water flow and tidal exchange, which in turn affects water quality and ecological processes. The environmental effects of surge barriers are poorly understood. Scientists and engineers are increasingly recognizing the need for broad research initiatives to assess the advantages and disadvantages of large surge barriers.

In the New York metropolitan area, concern about threats to highly valuable and vulnerable coastal infrastructure from sea level rise and extreme storms has driven interest in a gated surge barrier system. The US Army Corps of Engineers, state of New York and New Jersey, and New York City have partnered to conduct the Harbor and Tributaries (HAT) Focus Area Feasibility Study to evaluate barriers and other options to manage coastal storm risks. To better understand the impacts constructed surge barriers would have on the Hudson River and the surrounding estuary ecosystem, this catalyst project facilitated the development of a collaborative research agenda to address information needs. The project modeled and analyzed the physical effects of surge barriers and hosted a series of workshops to synthesize and share information. The project gave scientists and community stakeholders a more robust understanding of surge barrier effects on the Hudson River and its wetlands, informed the HAT feasibility study, and established a foundation for collaboration among people involved in the topic around the world.