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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Tidally Driven Interannual Variation in Extreme Sea Level Frequencies in the Gulf of Maine


H. Baranes

J. Woodruff

S. Talke

R. Kopp

R. Ray

R. DeConto

+1 more
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
American Geophysical Union (AGU)
Secondary Title:
Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
2169-9275, 2169-9291


Astronomical variations in tidal magnitude can strongly modulate the severity of coastal flooding on daily, monthly, and interannual timescales. Here we present a new quasi-nonstationary skew surge joint probability method (qn-SSJPM) that estimates interannual fluctuations in flood hazard caused by the 18.6- and quasi 4.4-year modulations of tides. We demonstrate that qn-SSJPM-derived storm tide frequency estimates are more precise and stable compared with the standard practice of fitting an extreme value distribution to measured storm tides, which is often biased by the largest few events within the observational period. Applying the qn-SSJPM in the Gulf of Maine, we find significant tidal forcing of winter storm season flood hazard by the 18.6-year nodal cycle, whereas 4.4-year modulations and a secular trend in tides are small compared to interannual variation and long-term trends in sea-level. The nodal cycle forces decadal oscillations in the 1% annual chance storm tide at an average rate of ±13.5 mm/year in Eastport, ME; ±4.0 mm/year in Portland, ME; and ±5.9 mm/year in Boston, MA. Currently (in 2020), nodal forcing is counteracting the sea-level rise-induced increase in flood hazard; however, in 2025, the nodal cycle will reach a minimum and then begin to accelerate flood hazard increase as it moves toward its maximum phase over the subsequent decade. Along the world's meso-to-macrotidal coastlines, it is therefore critical to consider both sea-level rise and tidal nonstationarity in planning for the transition to chronic flooding that will be driven by sea-level rise in many regions over the next century.