Does flooding get worse with subsiding land? Investigating the impacts of land subsidence on flood inundation from Hurricane Harvey

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Dec 27;865:161072. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.161072. Online ahead of print.


As one of the most devastating tropical storms, 2017 Hurricane Harvey caused severe flooding and damage in Houston, Texas. Besides enormous rainfall amount, land subsidence might be another contributing factor to the Harvey flood. However, few studies have numerically quantified the evolvement of land subsidence over decades, largely due to the lack of reliable methods to realistically estimate land subsidence both continuously and at high spatial resolution. Therefore, this study aims to investigate retrospective changes of regional topology due to 117 years (1900 to 2017) of land subsidence and the consequent impacts on flood inundation. Based on continuous land subsidence, we conduct a series of simulations on the 2017 Hurricane Harvey in Brays Bayou, Texas using a hydrodynamic/hydraulic model. The results indicate that the overall change of flood depth caused by land subsidence is relatively minor with the flood water deepened by six centimeters per one meter of subsided land at the worst impacted location. The impact from land subsidence on flood depth exhibits strong nonlinearity in time, where effects from previous land subsidence hotspots could be altered by later continuing land subsidence. Spatially, changes in flood depth due to the land subsidence are not only heterogeneous but mixed with coexisting increased and reduced flood depths. The results of this study improve the understanding of the dynamic evolvement of flood inundation due to continuous land subsidence so that better planning can be initiated for sustainable urban development for coastal communities, which is imperative under ongoing climate change and sea level rise.

Keywords: Flood depth and velocity; Flood extent; Flood inundation; HEC-RAS 2D modeling; Hurricane Harvey; Land subsidence.