Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Fast moving hurricanes and stationary nor’easters have resulted in significant flood damage in Chesapeake tidewater communities. The Chesapeake Bay region is one of A m erica’s most vulnerable regions with respect to sea-level rise, which will only increase storm surge impacts over upcoming decades. While the general trends are well documented, there is limited information relevant to specific communities’ relative flood risk and response. The dearth o f data is especially troublesome given the lengthy period o f time generally needed for communities to plan and implement adaptive action. This study contributes to the regional understanding of flood and sea-level rise vulnerability by applying physical, social, and combined vulnerability indices to tidally influenced localities along the Chesapeake Bay. Unlike other combinations of physical and socioeconomic data, the physical vulnerability index for this study is calculated at a scale that can directly link into social vulnerability index information at local and regional levels. The research also considers the distribution of coastal natural capital (in the form o f marshes and forests) alongside these indices at comparable scales.

By calculating the indices for conditions o f the early 2000s, this study also tested their predictive value against Hurricane Isabel, a landmark 2003 storm that flooded areas across the region. Systematic verification “hindcasts” o f past events are relatively rare for vulnerability index evaluation. By attempting to establish connections between real flooding data, socioeconomic activity, and vulnerability indices, this study questions whether theoretical vulnerability indices work as true proxies for real world conditions. The results question the true utility o f these indices by showing limited relationships between vulnerability and changes in community socio-economic activity. The research also emphasizes the need for more data collection and consideration in order to better comprehensively understand coastal flood impacts and their management implications.



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