RAPID: The Impact of Increased Fresh Water Input from Hurricane Harvey to the Water Quality and Stratification of Coastal and Offshore Waters of Texas
- View All
In late August 2017, Category 4 Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Coastal Texas, 2017 and stalled bringing 125 cm of rain to Southeastern Texas over a five-day period resulting in catastrophic flooding along most of the Gulf coast of Texas as well as the metropolitan Houston area and 18 surrounding counties. Dams and reservoirs filled and even on September 1st ? 3rd releases from these dams continued to flood the area releasing even more water. Approximately 11 trillion gallons were estimated to have fallen and eventually this freshwater will be released onto the broad Texas continental shelf. In the US alone there has never been so much fresh water impacting a coastal area other than the discharge of the Mississippi River, which divides between the Atchafalaya River and the Birdfoot Delta to the east and injects freshwater into a much narrower shelf and into much deeper water in the north-central Gulf. The main hypothesis of the Rapid response project is that freshwater from Hurricane Harvey has 1) reduced coastal water quality by increasing stratification, and thereby inhibiting ventilation of atmospheric oxygen to sub-surface waters and 2) increased respiration by transporting nutrients from terrestrially derived sources leading to increased biomass and microbial activity. Secondly, the ocean heat content of the Texas Bight region contributed to the intensification of Hurricane Harvey by supplying thermal heat to the storm as it passed from the deep Gulf of Mexico to the shelf region. This project will provide critical information on how freshwater runoff from hurricane Harvey is impacting the stratification, oxygen, nutrient budgets of the coastal waters and whether this could lead to hypoxia and other long-term ecological impacts along the Texas shelf. The data will be made available rapidly to other researchers, students and the public. This project aims to answer two questions of importance which could not be answered without a major flood. Is the freshwater from Hurricane Harvey reducing coastal water quality by increasing stratification, thereby inhibiting ventilation of atmospheric oxygen to subpycnocline water and is it increasing respiration by transporting nutrients from terrestrially derived sources leading to increased biomass and microbial activity? The project will also seek to determine if the ocean heat content of the Texas Bight region contributed to the intensification of Hurricane Harvey by supplying thermal heat to the storm as it passed from the deep Gulf of Mexico to the shelf region. This Rapid response project will conduct two research cruises on the R/V Pelican, one in late September and one in mid-November to quantify the effects and potential impacts of the freshwater run-off from Hurricane Harvey along the southern coast of Texas. In addition to the two cruises using a suite of oceanographic physio-chemical measurements, an autonomous Wave Glider will sample a grid to follow the freshwater plume and a buoyancy-controlled ocean glider will determine the depth and characteristics of the freshwater intrusion and its evolution between cruises and after data from two cruises in June and August 2017 prior to Hurricane Harvey. The research cruises will use existing offshore observing systems, i.e., the Texas Automated Buoy System, the Texas HF Radar network, and the Texas A&M University buoyancy-controlled glider program, to integrate the observations into a comprehensive picture of how the coastal region responded to the impulsive freshwater resulting from the unprecedented terrestrial flooding event in southeastern Texas.