Flood Hazards on Vulnerable Atolls

How can we predict flooding on vulnerable atolls in the Pacific?  Today, Tije Bakker defended his thesis, entitled “Compound flood hazard assessment of atoll islands based on representative scenarios for typhoons and non-typhoon conditions: A Majuro case study“. Tije is one of the master’s students that I supervise, and we are all proud of him and his work.

Majuro is an atoll island in the Marshall Islands, located in the middle of the Pacific, just north of the equator.  With 20,000 people packed into less than 10 square kilometres, it is one of the most densely-populated islands on earth.  It is also in big trouble: with an average elevation of only 3 m above sea level, Majuro faces serious risks of flooding.  They can’t “head for the hills”, because there are none. The threat of drowning under rising seas looms on the horizon, but many low-lying tropical islands like Majuro will be rendered uninhabitable not within centuries but within mere decades due to flooding by waves.

Predicting these floods and planning appropriate measures to mitigate their impact is thus a matter of life or death for people living on these islands. My previous work on this topic considered only “sunny day” floods due swell waves generated by distant storms.  Tije’s thesis took the next step and focused specifically on predicting compound floods: the combined effects of flooding due to waves and rain.   On top of that, Tije took on the much more challenging task of predicting the massive and volatile typhoons that can clobber a small island like Majuro.

The methods he developed will be very useful not just for Majuro, but also for other vulnerable islands.  Given its relevance and novelty, we hope to publish it as a paper in the coming months. Great job, Tije!

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