September 2018  (USF, St. Petersburg, FL) - A combination of record-breaking rainfall and inadequate floodplain management led to historic flooding of many coastal cities around the US Gulf of Mexico in 2017. Flooding of developed and built coastal zones is occurring more frequently every year. Many flat, low-lying coastal communities have grown to be large, and residents face high risk of property and financial risk as a changing climate brings higher average sea levels and more frequent extreme storm events every year. Mitigating these risks requires information on coastal topography, vegetation types, and development patterns around coastal cities, for updated flood maps.

Frank Muller-Karger, PhD, Professor at the College of Marine Science of the University of South Florida, has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant ($1,000,000) to establish a Big Data Regional Innovation Hub for a three-year study of these problems in collaboration with Texas A&M University and Google Earth Engine. Dr. Muller-Karger leads a team of researchers that includes Drs. Matt McCarthy, Tim Dixon, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers at USF, James Gibeaut at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Paul Morin at the University of Minnesota, and Lea Shanley from the South Big Data Hub to update topographic and land cover maps for the entire US Gulf of Mexico coastal plain. Using high-resolution satellite imagery, LiDAR data, and supercomputing resources, the team will update land elevation data and improve land cover maps with a spatial resolution of up to 200 times greater than existing maps at this scale for areas within 50 km of the coast.

Prototype 3-dimensional models will also be developed for the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Corpus Christi using structure-from-motion (SfM) techniques. Combined with the elevation and land maps, these models will help coastal cities develop plans for sustainable growth while mitigating losses due to flooding, which is forecast to increase with rising sea levels. The maps will be freely available to researchers, managers, and to the general public.