Tidal-flat reclamation aggravates potential risk from storm impacts

Min Zhang, Zhijun Dai, Tjeerd J. Bouma, Jeremy Bricker, Ian Townend, Jiahong Wen, Tongtiegang Zhao, Huayang Cai*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A better understanding of how tidal-flat reclamation changes the flood hazard is critical for climate-proofing coastal flood defense design of heavily urbanized areas. Since the 1950s, large-scale reclamation has been performed along the Shanghai coast, China, to fulfill the land demands of city expansion. We now show that the loss of tidal flats may have resulted in harmful impacts of coastal storm flooding. Using the foreshore profiles measured before and after reclamation (i.e., wide vs. narrow tidal flat), we determined the long-term changes in flood risk using a numerical model that combines extreme tidal level and wave overtopping analysis. Results show that wide tidal flats in front of a seawall provide efficient wave damping even during extreme water levels. Reclamation of these tidal flats substantially increased wave heights and correspondingly reduced the return period of a specific storm. As a result, estimates of overtopping are aggravated by more than 80% for the varying return periods examined. It is concluded that the disasters of coastal flooding after the 1997 tidal-flat reclamation in Hangzhou Bay, China are a consequence of both anthropogenic and natural activities. Moreover, our model calculations provide an equation describing the equivalent dike height needed to compensate for the loss of every km tidal flat of a certain elevation, and vice versa. For example, for every km of tidal flat ranging from high marsh to bare tidal flat that is being regained, the dike can be lowered by 0.84 m–0.67 m, when designing for a 1 in 200 years storm event. Overall, we suggest that wide tidal flats are ideally restored in front of dikes, and that when tidal areas are reclaimed, the seawall height is raised as part of the intertidal reclamation procedure. Using such an equivalent protection standard is relevant to designing hybrid flood defense system worldwide.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103868
Number of pages16
JournalCoastal Engineering
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Equivalent protection standard
  • Extreme value analysis
  • Joint probability analysis
  • Reclamations
  • Storm flooding


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