Massive pollutants released to Galveston Bay during Hurricane Harvey: Understanding their retention and pathway using Lagrangian numerical simulations.
Additional Document Info
Increasing frequency of extreme precipitation events under the future warming climate makes the storm-related pollutant release more and more threatening to coastal ecosystems. Hurricane Harvey, a 1000-year extreme precipitation event, caused massive pollutant release from the Houston metropolitan area to the adjacent Galveston Bay. 0.57106 tons of raw sewage and 22,000 barrels of oil, refined fuels and chemicals were reportly released during Harvey, which would likely deteriorate the water quality and damage the coastal ecosystem. Using a Lagrangian particle-tracking method coupled with a validated 3D hydrodynamic model, we examined the retention, pathway, and fate of the released pollutants. A new timescale, local exposure time (LET), is introduced to quantitatively evaluate the spatially varying susceptibility inside the bay and over the shelf, with a larger LET indicating the region is more susceptible to the released pollutants. We found LET inside the bay is at least one order of magnitude larger for post-storm release than storm release due to a quick recovery in the system's flushing. More than 90% of pollutants released during the storm exited the bay within two days, while those released after the storm could stay inside the bay for up to three months. This implies that post-storm release is potentially more damaging to water quality and ecosystem health. Our results suggest that not only the amount of total pollutant load but also the release timing should be considered when assessing a storm's environmental and ecological influence, because there could be large amounts of pollutants steadily and slowly discharged after storm through groundwater, sewage systems, and reservoirs.