SHU's Environmental Systems and Management Students and Faculty Monitor Hurricane Sandy

News Story: October 28, 2012
ESAM students, from left, Mike Stocker, Rory Parcell, and Joe Cassone prepare the pressure sensor for analysis during Hurricane Sandy

John Rapaglia, assistant professor of Biology at Sacred Heart University, is working with a group of graduate students in the Environmental Systems and Management Program (ESAM) to monitor and analyze the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy as it happens.

With the approach of Hurricane Sandy, Rapaglia put together a rudimentary flooding analysis of the Fairfield County coastline based on a 3 m pixel resolution digital elevation model of coastal Fairfield. "The extent of coastal flooding is highly dependent upon the timing of the surge. Tuesday morning is marked by full spring tide, which could be a blessing or a curse. If the surge coincides with astronomical low tide, the surge will not be very damaging, however if the surge coincides with astronomical high tides, flooding levels could reach 12 feet above mean high tide," he reported on Sunday evening.

"Although not a powerful hurricane, Sandy could still boast a major surge-particularly within Long Island Sound-due to the length of time the hurricane is churning over open water. Surges are based on wind speed, barometric pressure, and fetch. The fetch associated with Sandy is very large, and could even be amplified by constriction within Long Island Sound itself," he said.

Along with three ESAM masters students, Rapaglila deployed a pressure sensor in the subtidal zone at Stratford Point which will read the water level every 30 seconds during the storm. According to Rapaglia, "we will learn about storm surge development from these data and will keep the community updated as to what we learn. If the timing coincides with astronomical high tide, wind waves on top of the surge could lead to major beach and marsh erosion on our southern shores. The surge could penetrate inland, flooding low lying areas and houses and causing widespread damage to coastal communities. Please heed any warnings and be aware that the surge could be worse than predicted."