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Factors controlling flooding at the Tonalá river mouth (Mexico)
A. Pedrozo-Acuña1, A. Ruiz de Alegria-Arzaburu1, I. Mariño-Tapia2, C. Enriquez1 and F.J. González Villareal1
1 Instituto de Ingeniería, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, México 2 Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados (CINVESTAV), Unidad Mérida del Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Mérida, México

Correspondence Adrián Pedrozo-Acuña, Instituto de Ingeniería, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Cd. Universitaria, 04510 Coyoacán, Mexico City, D.F., México Email: apedrozoa@ii.unam.mx DOI: 10.1111/j.1753-318X.2012.01142.x Key words Coastal flood; field data; flood risk; floodplain; fluvial flood; hydrodynamic model; inundation; river mouth.

Abstract This investigation presents an integrated study for the identification of coastal and fluvial forcing, in the generation of flood events in the lower area of the Tonalá River. The methodology is designed to reduce some of the uncertainties in the results and is comprised by high-quality field measurements, a twodimensional numerical model and light ranging and detection data. Under typical conditions, results show good agreement between numerical and measured data. Investigation of mesh resolution effects and roughness parameterisation along the floodplain demonstrates the grid independence of the results and enabled the selection of a realistic roughness value for the floodplain. Results imply a sensitivity of the region to the combined river and coastal forcing. This study demonstrates that a good description of the terrain elevation, acquisition of high-quality bathymetric data and proper calibration of the roughness parameters provide the adequate set-up for the identification of vulnerable areas to flood events generated by river discharges and storm surges. The combined scenarios of high discharges and storm surges showed a delicate balance between river and coastal fluxes within this system. The approach could be useful for both, the generation of flood management strategies and the understanding of the role of driving physical processes.

1. Introduction
It has been internationally acknowledged that both coastal and fluvial floods remain the most frequent and devastating natural hazards (e.g. Dawson et al., 2009; Gallien et al., 2011). Lowland regions are particularly vulnerable to flooding induced by both regional variation in sea-level rise and extreme discharges, and also sediment supply (e.g. Nicholls, 2002; Pye and Blott, 2009). In the case of river flood modelling, efforts have focused on the forecast of floods based on measured precipitation (e.g. Goppert et al., 1998), and the incorporation of numerical weather prediction models (ensemble prediction systems) is considered necessary to obtain accurate day-toweek forecasts (Cloke and Pappenberger, 2009). Recently, flood modelling efforts have focused on wavelet-based short-term (days) river flood forecasting (Adamowski, 2008); however, modelling floods in lowland rivers is complex and requires an accurate representation of the fluvial processes as well as the hydrological inflows into the reach (Stewart et al., 1999). Indeed, a good flood risk management strategy aims to control flood disasters, in the

sense of being prepared for a flood, and to minimise its impact (Reeve, 1998; Plate, 2002). Floodplain inundation plays a key role in the generation of these strategies and for several ecological processes, such as ecosystem productivity, species occurrence and distribution and nutrient and sediment dynamics (Poff et al., 1997; Postel and Richter, 2003). Hence, being able to simulate the spatial inundation patterns through mathematical modelling provides a valuable tool to water management as well as the effects of human interventions such as water withdrawals, embankments, dykes and dredging projects. With the increasing availability of high-resolution remote-sensing data sets, it seems that two-dimensional (2D) modelling is the way forward for floodplain inundation prediction (Horritt and Bates, 2001). However, the use of 2-D models is still somewhat restricted due to its data requirements. At the very minimum, they need validation data and distributed topographic data (Bates et al., 1998). Recent progress in remote-sensing techniques offers the opportunity to collect spatially distributed data rapidly and over large areas (Cobby et al., 2001; Hodgson and Bresnahan, 2004). Digital elevation models (DEMs) can be derived
J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244

© 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management

in flood events associated to alluvial plains of large rivers. 2009 and 2010. This paper is organised as follows. 2007). Precisely. 2008). These extreme events induce high water levels at the coast and produce intense precipitation events. some studies have started to look at the action of coastal surge and river discharge. the current study employs a LiDAR-based DEM for the accurate representation of elevation data with root mean square error of 0. both still water levels and river discharges can be important in assessing flood risk. as pointed out by Hawkes et al. Section 5 presents the hydrodynamic results under extreme events due to fluvial and coastal forcings as well as the description of the hydraulic consequences on the floodplain under the different scenarios. In addition. In fact.. Cobby et al. water level variations along the rivers are due to a combination of upstreampropagating coastal surge and rainfall and run-off flow. Section 2 provides a description of the study area. conclusions and future work are summarised in Section 6. this has been experienced in the Mexican state of Tabasco. In recent years. intense precipitation. hurricanes) is expected each year from June 1st until November 30th. which will then enable an analysis of flood-prone areas resulting from the incidence of extreme river discharge and storm surges. during the severe floods of 2007. Yue and Rasmussen. 2002). 2009).2 m in the horizontal and 0. the main aim of this work is to analyse coastal and fluvial factors controlling flood generation along the lower course of the Tonalá River.g. (2011). For instance. After these experiences. Finally. 2008). as in the record period.e.. For this. 2003). On river mouths subject to the incidence of high surges. these can become decoupled (e. showing that in some cases. drainage) has been pointed out as a valuable insight into the limiting processes for extreme flood generation. there are too few events among the observations. 2002). this investigation follows the integrated two-prong approach presented by Pedrozo-Acuña et al. the model set-up and validation are introduced. Indeed. protection policies have evolved in different ways depending on the type of flood that is observed (e. local river-/coastal flood-producing factors are more amenable to analysis than in larger catchments where the regional combination of controls can be relatively more important (Merz and Blöschl. there are very few studies focused on understanding the causes of flood occurrence close to river mouths in relation to extreme conditions (i. 1999. 2000. the incidence of tropical storms (i. Indeed. unless both driving factors are either completely independent or dependent. different rivers flooded a large part of the Mexican state of Tabasco.g. In Section 4. In all these events.. the hydraulic system will be characterised during normal conditions. Thus. Section 3 presents a description of the methodology comprised by field measurements and the numerical model. DEMs derived with high-resolution LiDAR data are useful to input into hydrodynamic models and carry out small-scale flood risk management studies (Fewtrell et al.. 2001). In this case. it is necessary to carry out a careful assessment of both factors (fluvial and coastal). this is the case when linking flood events to high surges and intense river discharges. In the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Under these conditions. the characterization of the response close to the river mouth (e. the eastern state of Tabasco represents one of the most vulnerable regions to flooding. However. 2. many © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management . airborne interferometric synthetic aperture radar data or the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data (Sanders.15 m in the vertical (INEGI. 2008. 2008). 2010). it is well known that the uncertainty in the results of hydraulic modelling is generated by constraints in the knowledge of the boundary conditions. This allows long-term planning for flood damage reduction and issuing of targeted early warning to downstream communities located in the floodplains which will be affected (Popescu et al.e. water surface elevations and appropriate channel roughness (Beven. and consequently. generates appropriate flood mitigation measures on the basis of accurate forecasts. topography..2 million of affected people (Aparicio et al. extreme storm surges). in order to develop strategies of flood mitigation and defence. The simultaneous occurrence of intense river discharges and a high still water level is therefore important in estimating their combined effect controlling flooding. with depths up to 4 m in some locations and with circa~1. The methodology is comprised of the combination of a high-quality data set obtained during an intensive field campaign carried out in September 2010 and a validated standard two-D numerical model. the 2007 event flooded 70% of the lowlands of the state. The Tonalá river system In Mexico. Additionally. multivariate extremes are difficult to predict directly from observational data. floods are intrinJ Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 sically multivariate random events. the main danger to life is from the wide lateral extent of inundated areas.e..Factors controlling flooding at Tonalá river mouth 227 from airborne light ranging and detection (LiDAR) data (Marks and Bates. Adamson et al. 2011). In particular. In particular. the use of these technological advances enables a better integration of high-quality data with numerical models.g. Within this context. (2002). flash floods or floods in alluvial plains) (Plate. Due to its size. Thus. Reeve et al. this is applied to identify possible sources of flood risk in a major river mouth in the Mexican state of Tabasco (Tonalá River). With the purpose of reducing the uncertainties in river flood modelling. On the other hand. and the need for procedures that enable the simultaneous estimation of probability for each of the variables involved has been recently recognised (i. In addition.

and it discharges more than 11 389 million m3/year towards the Gulf of Mexico (CONAGUA. showing the location of both the fixed intrumentation within the system ( Argonaut and CTD-diver. such as Agua Dulcita in Veracruz and Chicozapote in Tabasco. rivers in this area are of a transboundary nature. Figure 1 Location of Tonalá River in relation to the Gulf of Mexico.6 m mean spring tidal range) and low wave conditions (mean Hs < 1 m). where all the natural drainages (river mouths and lagoons) are located. Veracruz and Tabasco within México. exposed to a microtidal regime (~0. 2010). Any event occurring in these rivers is advected downstream to Tabasco. An example of this situation was observed during 2009. Close to its river mouth. The average mean temperature in Tonalá is between 24 °C–28 °C. as their catchment includes not only Mexico but also Guatemala. when severe flooding was produced by the Tonalá river. with a climate influenced by an intense wet season (September–December) in combination with the incidence of hurricanes and storms arriving J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management . Mexico.b. the flow receives input from other streams.c. with a total length of approximately 150 km (Figure 1).228 Pedrozo-Acuña et al. Acoustic Doppler V elocimeter currentmeter) and the monitored cross-shore transects using the Acoustic Doppler Profiler (a. The study site is a lowlying area of ~350 km2 (Figure 1).d). This natural watercourse flows into the Gulf of Mexico and defines the boundary between the states of Veracruz and Tabasco.

SyQwest Bathy 500 DF. USA) synchronised with a Leica 1200 (Leica Geosystems AG. reporting that an increase of 0. Furthermore.1 Field measurements In September 2010.8 m in the water level corresponds to a return period of 500 years.Factors controlling flooding at Tonalá river mouth 229 from the north. topography. Methodology The integrated approach used in this study is comprised by the acquisition of high-quality field measurements. In addition. Warwick. discharge.. 2001). WA. There are several urban areas and locations along both sides of the river and river mouth: the towns of Tonalá. The hydrologic characteristics play in concert with the morphological setting of the lowland area to increase the susceptibility of the region to flooding events during extreme scenarios. Because there is no recorded information about the flood magnitude or nature within the region. The shoreline and waterbodies along the study area were defined from digitised freely available georeferenced satellite imagery from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Landsat 7 shown in Figure 1). the area is populated with industrial facilities associated with the national oil company (PEMEX). this study employs in situ-measured river discharges. with an average between 2–3 m/year. which are used by water managers in both forecasting situations as well as planning situations. The region has the highest mean precipitation rate in Mexico. In addition. Inc. Bellevue. It is acknowledged that some of the uncertainties within the modelling results are generated by constraints in the knowledge of the boundary conditions. 3. Sea-Bird Electronics. Agua Dulce and Gavilán in Veracruz and Cuauhtemoczin and La Venta in Tabasco. USA) at the river mouth and corrected for atmospheric pressure variations with a baro-diver installed out of the water. These requirements are met nowadays by making use of both hydrodynamic models and high-quality data. water levels and velocities. a 2-week field campaign was carried out along the Tonalá River with the aim of collecting topographic and bathymetric data. In addition. The field data were collected during an intensive field campaign and were used to validate the MIKE 21 flexible mesh (FM) two-D numerical model. Detailed bathymetric data were collected along the Tonalá River using a double-frequency echo sounder (SyQuest Bathy 500 DF.. Thus. topographic elevation from a LiDAR data source and standard two-D numerical modelling. and the cloudiness is high most of the year. Durán et al. Moreover. In addition. Switzerland) differential GPS (dGPS) and fixed on a motor boat (see trajectories in Figure 2). indicated that extreme values of discharge for the Tonalá River are between 500–1000 m3/s for return periods in the interval of 5 to 1000 years. bathymetry. in order to determine a reference point for all topographic and bathymetric measurements. temperature and depth (pressure)(CTD)-diver (Seabird SBE19plus. The relative humidity fluctuates between 80%–86%. temperature and salinity measurements along the river and river mouth. presented by Fuentes et al. water levels were measured with a conductivity. sediment samples were collected across the beach profile to enable a full morphological characterisation of different regions of the beach and river mouth. which can then be used for the determination of flood maps in the Tonalá River floodplain under different hydrodynamic conditions. (2010) estimated probability distributions for the windinduced storm surge in the coastal zone of Tabasco. Figure 2 Digitised shoreline and waterbodies (blue line) along with the motor-boat trajectories for the bathymetric survey (red dots). there is a clear need to increase the level of understanding of the different factors increasing flood risk. Beach profiles were measured from the upper beach (dunes) up to the shoreline using the dGPS on wheels. SyQWest Inc. Therefore. water surface elevations and appropriate channel roughness (Beven. A recent hydrological study. LiDAR data were utilised to establish an accurate representation of the topography in the study region. in an attempt to reduce the uncertainties. Heerbrugg. The utilisation of this approach allows the set-up and validation of the two-D model. J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management . severe floods may cause large socioeconomical damage along this region. Bathymetric data and information on river discharges at localised points are necessary to define the initial and boundary conditions of the hydrodynamic model. RI. 3. (2010). knowledge on water levels and fluxes is needed for the validation of the numerical outputs and enables the use of such model to obtain accurate numerical solutions. as well as water level.

com. Due to the fact that the study is not aimed at characterising floods in urban areas. Instantaneous discharges at the different cross sections were estimated from the ADP measurements. ground hits are processed by subtracting an empirically determined fraction of the vegetation height from the original data. Q represents river discharge.g. Thus.e. 3. Figure 4 illustrates the three generated DEMs for the study region with resolutions of 5 m. (2003).1 06/10/2010 15:00hrs 07/10/2010 03:00hrs Figure 3 Estimated discharges from acoustic doppler current profiler measurements (mean and maximum. YSI Inc. Vangkroken. whom state that a 10-m DEM is acceptable for floodplain mapping. The fixed instrumentation included an Acoustic Doppler Velocimeter (Nortek. These measurements aimed to quantify water exchange in the system (Figure 1) and were collected from a wave runner with an Acoustic Doppler Profiler (1. the raw data were processed in different ways depending on the type and height of the vegetation. the 10-m DEM is selected for the generation of the mesh in the floodplain. The model solves the equations at the centre of each element within the domain. Upstream from this position. 10 m and 20 m. the river is limited by a national road that separates the studied lowland region from the upper river. Hydrodynamic and thermohaline measurements were collected with moorings at the river mouth at 8. The location of the first boundary condition is at the south of the domain (blue dot in Figure 5). 3. the topographic height map is constructed by interpolation between local minima (assumed to be ground hits) and topographic heights in nearby short vegetation regions.2 (m) η diver 0. These types of measurements were collected at the four open boundaries (Figure 1) and were used to define the model boundary conditions. San Diego. Figure 3 showing the mean and maximum discharges at the river mouth). In regions of tall and intermediate vegetation (i. The second boundary located at the J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management . Norway) to record currents during 1 min every 10 min with a sampling frequency of 1 Hz and CTD-diver to measure conductivity.8 m depth. Following Mason et al.1 0 -0. CA.1 Model boundary conditions Three boundary conditions are set: 1) where the input hydrograph will be set. four river sections were monitored during 12-h tidal cycles recording continuous current profile measurements through the whole water column during 30 min each hour followed by temperature and salinity profiles at strategic points along the river transect. 3 0. NRC (2007) and Prinos et al. (2008).3 Numerical model The MIKE 21 FM flow model is applied to investigate the physical processes involved in the flood events along the floodplain of the Tonalá River.Sontek. This selection follows recommendations put forward by the Committee on Floodplain Mapping Technologies. 2) at Tonalá’s river mouth and 3) at the Agua Dulcita river.3 Q Q mean max 3. In addition. temperature and pressure over a week (Figure 1).12 m depth and 12 km up the river at 4. 1998). in regions of short vegetation. then the topographic elevation map is constructed. Nortek AS. The mean (entire cross section) discharge and the different water level discharges over the 12-h tidal cycle were obtained from the measurements (e.2 MHz ADP.230 Pedrozo-Acuña et al. Ground height accuracy falls off in wooded regions due to poor penetration of the LiDAR through the canopy. The area of study contains the lower reach of the Tonalá River along with its floodplain. / Xylem Inc. the selected study region and floodplain does not contain any large areas of woodland. as it ensures both accuracy and detail of the ground surface.2 LiDAR data The LiDAR data provided by INEGI (2008) were utilised to construct three ground surface DEMs with different resolution for the area of study. DHI. Fortunately. 1600 1400 Q (m /s) 1200 1000 800 600 0. USA) and a CTD Seabird SBE19plus.dhigroup.3. this method has been shown to be accurate to about 10% (Magnussen and Boudewyn. top panel) and water surface elevation at the Tonalá river mouth (bottom panel). 2009). The determination of the vegetation heights is derived by subtracting the ground heights from the canopy returns from the raw data. mangrove and palm trees). The hydrodynamic model solves the Reynolds-averaged two-D Navier–Stokes equations subject to the assumptions of Boussinesq and of hydrostatic pressure (http://www.

(c) and (d) present ADP measurements (velocity. © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management . a sensitivity analysis is carried out in order to determine the optimum model grid for the river channel. The location of both cross sections is indicated in the small panel in the upper right corner of Figure 8. Reeve et al.Factors controlling flooding at Tonalá river mouth 231 Figure 4 Digital elevation models obtained from light ranging and detection data. where panel (a) illustrates the time series of water level and panels (b). 1999. Five different grids are built and tested in order to ensure the numerical independence of the results to the model discretisation. discharge and depth) obtained at the same cross section in the Tonalá River. 2010). 3 and 5 in Figure 7. The third boundary located at the entrance of Agua Dulcita river (red dot Figure 5) is estimated with flow measurements to a constant discharge of 100 m3/s. where the bathymetric measurements are assimilated. Table 1 Summary of the selected meshes for the sensitivity analysis Mesh no. The hydraulic behaviour of the river mouth is determined by changes of the mean sea level due to tidal fluctuations or storm surges generated by hurricanes or northerly winds. these are in agreement with measurements from the field campaign (root mean square error of 96 m3/s). Moreover. while the difference in spatial resolution for the region of the river mouth is illustrated for grids 1. The first of these is selected close to the river mouth to enable the comparison of numerical results against field measurements. 3. A summary of the characteristics of these meshes is presented in Table 1. Results for the point close to the river mouth show that the selected meshes reproduce the same trend. where a comparison of numerical results for river discharges at two different cross sections along the river stream is illustrated. These results indicate the grid independence of the numerical results generated.2 Sensitivity analysis to numerical grids It has been acknowledged that an understanding of mesh resolution effects on the model results is vital for the accuJ Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 rate representation of the physical systems (Hardy et al.3. Following this reasoning. providing confidence in the numerical discretisation of the study area. An example of the obtained measurements is shown in Figure 6. 1 2 3 4 5 Maximum element size (m2) 6 400 2 500 1 600 900 625 Number of nodes 9 874 11 498 13 365 17 826 22 428 Number of elements 14 202 17 371 20 972 29 555 38 369 river mouth is defined through measured temporal variations of the water level during the field campaign from the 27th of September to the 11th of October 2010 (green dot Figure 5).. The river discharge obtained at the cross section located in the centre of the domain also shows a very similar behaviour in all five meshes (comparison shown in bottom panel of Figure 8).. Results for this analysis are shown in Figure 8. while the other is defined at an intermediate section along the river.

(b) mesh with processed and interpolated light ranging and detection data. © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 .232 Pedrozo-Acuña et al. green – water level variation and red – discharge at the river Agua Dulcita. Figure 5 (a) Illustration of the computational mesh and zoom for details. Note that resolution is highest along the river stream (locations of boundary conditions are identified by the dots: blue – input hydrograph.

J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management .40 (a) 3-Oct-2010 5-Oct-2010 7-Oct-2010 9-Oct-2010 (b) (c) (d) Number of observaƟons Figure 6 (a) Measured astronomic tides at the Tonalá river mouth from the 27th September to the 11th of October 2010.20 0.20 -0. Acoustic Doppler Profiler measurements (b) velocities.00 -0.40 Tidal elevaƟon (m) 0. (c) discharges and (d) depths at the Tonalá river mouth.Factors controlling flooding at Tonalá river mouth 233 0.

0313 0. Seven values for the Manning number on the flood- Figure 7 Close up to Tonalá’s river mouth showing three different resolutions for model discretisation (highest resolution mesh – Mesh 1.3. 3 is utilised in the rest of the paper for the river channel.0526 C2 0. For instance. The coarser grids no. The selected resolutions guaranteed the proper representation of the elevation in the floodplain with a 10-m DEM. a hypothetical exercise is undertaken. mesh no. 2004). respectively). and the level of detail at which this process can be represented is dependent on the scale of the simulation and the available data used for characterising the floodplain. The inundation extent to be simulated under the different scenarios cannot be contrasted against any field data from historical events. lowest resolution mesh – Mesh 5). Hodgson and Bresnahan. particular terrain and flow features will no longer be adequately represented. the mesh selection is carried out following recommendations put forward by Asselman et al. The main section of the Tonalá River contains elements of 400 m2. This provided a robust set-up for the definition of the model domain (e.0418 C3 0. (2003) introduced the use of LiDAR data to generate distributed friction maps. (2009). each with different resolution (finest andcoarser elements with a maximum area of 400 m2 and 1600 m2. 3. due to the difficulty in justifying the roughness parameterisation along the floodplain.0313 0.0213 C7 0. as their use in the river channel would lead to coarser elements in the numerical discretisation of the floodplain. However.0313 0.0313 0.0238 C6 0. middle resolution mesh – Mesh 3. the hydraulic resistance may be conceptually divided into several zones. one for the main river channel (n = 0. Although the decision on the grid resolution is a much more subjective choice. the floodplain mesh was constructed through 16 subdomains.0313 0. as spatial resolution is increased. in this study. whereas the other waterbodies contain elements of 900 m2 and 1600 m2.0192 © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 . Therefore. In order to evaluate the effect of the friction value on the resulting inundation extent.234 Pedrozo-Acuña et al. This enables flood modelling along the floodplain with adequate computational efficiency.0313 0. The model domain was determined in order to comprise the lower basin of the Tonalá River and additional main waterbodies (Figure 5). 4 and 5 are discarded.g. in this investigation. we utilise two different values for the Manning number. Clearly. this is assumed to be uniform. whom suggest a medium resolution for a good characterisation of the velocity field in rural floodplains. It is recognised that in river floodplains.0313 C4 0.0313 0.3 Floodplain discretisation and roughness Once the mesh resolution was determined for the river stream. Therefore.0313 m1/3/s) and another for the floodplain. Table 2 Selected roughnesses for river channel and floodplain (n m1/3/s) Region\case River channel Floodplain C1 0.0270 C5 0. Mason et al.

06 m1/3/s for the main channel and n = 0.e. n = 0.025– J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 0. Table 2 presents the seven coefficients employed in this experiment. © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management . Q represents river discharge.Factors controlling flooding at Tonalá river mouth 235 Figure 8 Numerical hydrographs at two cross sections (a – close to the river mouth and b – intermediate point) along the Tonalá river stream for the different selected resolutions (highest resolution mesh – Mesh 1. lowest resolution mesh – Mesh 5). plain are tested under the forcing of an extreme discharge on the river (Q = 1300 m3/s).05 m1/3/s for pasture and cultivated fields). (2005). where higher values of the coefficient represent more roughness. the roughness values are chosen depending on the land use in the floodplain (i.025–0. Following the work presented by Werner et al.

1300 m3/s and 1600 m3/s in combination with water level variations due to an astronomical tide. Table 3 Selected river discharges and storm surge conditions modelled with MIKE 21 for the evaluation of extreme flood risk scenarios Discharges [Q (m3/s)] 800 1000 1300 1600 2000 Measured astronomic tides ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ Moderate storm surge (~0.8 m and 1. It should be noted that this holds only for this particular case and only for the flood extent. the inundation extent does not change significantly.0588–0.2 m) ✓ ✓ ✗ ✓ ✗ For each of these numerical runs. the combined effect of extreme fluvial and coastal forcing is also studied.2 m with return periods of 500 and 1000 years. In order to get a better comparison of these results. discharges of 800 m3/s.236 Pedrozo-Acuña et al. the influence of the storm surge on the system is examined through the use of two surge peaks of 0.e.g. for the rest of the experiments here presented. the difference found in the comparison between the cases of higher resistance n = 0. The difference in inundated area between the cases of lower resistance n = 0. Figure 9 presents the resulting inundation maps. Moreover. Table 3 comprises all the extreme cases simulated with the numerical model for the evaluation of the floods along the study region.8 and varying time-steps of 0.. 1600 m3/s and 2000 m3/s associated with return periods between 5–10 000 years are evaluated. (2010). Werner et al. Results of a stationary discharge of 1300 m3/s (during 3 days) show the existence of significant floods along the upper river and near the river input boundary. where small differences are illustrated among the selected floodplain roughnesses. when varying the Manning number for the floodplain in compliance with other literature (e. These values are determined for a strong northerly wind and a hurricane class 2 in the Saffir–Simpson scale. the purpose is to provide useful information to local authorities regarding flood-prone areas in terms of its forcing. Floodplains with different vegetation and characteristics may behave differently. These results indicate that the use of a higher Manning number for the floodplain than that utilised for the river channel does not have a big impact on the resulting inundation area for this case.0192 m1/3/s in the floodplain and a constant Manning number in river and floodplain n = 0. a value of n = 0. Therefore.03125 m1/3/s is estimated in 10% more affected area. constant). In particular. Therefore. 4. Figure 10 presents the results of inundated area against roughness coefficient in the floodplain. 1300 m3/s.03125 m1/3/s is utilised. In contrast.1 Fluvial forcing – extreme river discharge The first scenarios comprise the study of stationary discharges of 800 m3/s. The model simulations here presented have a Courant number of 0. a constant value of n = 0. The central part of the domain is flooded. the Tonalá River is able to drain and discharge the excess volume of water into the Gulf of Mexico without causing relevant floods (panels (a) and (b)). On the other hand. The combination of high-quality field and elevation data with a validated standard two-D model is novel and relies on the latest scientific knowledge published on flood risk research. added to the measured astronomical tide.01–15 s. Numerical results indicate that under the two first scenarios (800 m3/s and 1000 m3/s).027 m1/3/s. © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management . rather than accurate identification of flood extents. The flooded area is naturally increased for the unrealistic cases where Manning numbers in the floodplain imply less roughness than in the river channel.0588 m1/3/s in the floodplain and that using a constant Manning number in river and floodplain is small. The affected area is 2% smaller in the higher resistance case in comparison with that of a uniform Manning number. it is evident that for a Manning number between 0. 2005). Results under fluvial/coastal extreme forcing The model performance is considered satisfactory under the conditions recorded during the field campaign. The purpose of this numerical experiment is the enhancement of the understanding of how the hydraulic system responds to the occurrence of extreme conditions. All model runs comprise a simulation period of 3 days.8 m) ✓ ✓ ✗ ✓ ✗ Extreme storm surge (~1. In this figure. a flood map is obtained and the affected area is estimated. the resulting flooded area does not change significantly. Moreover. The selected extreme scenarios for both the discharge in the river and water level at the river mouth are chosen under the basis of reported values in previous studies presented by Fuentes et al. the resulting inundation extent is digitised and quantified in order to be able to compare in a more quantitative manner. 1000 m3/s. (2010) and Durán et al. The investigation here presented comprises the first attempt of its kind in Mexico.04545 m1/3/s is determined for the floodplain. in which by means of an integrated methodology. The purpose of the numerical simulations is to identify flood-prone areas under different extreme forcing. but most of the floods J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 4. while for the river channel. this section presents a qualitative evaluation of flood generation along the river floodplain under the incidence of extreme fluvial and/or coastal forcing. 1000 m3/s. considering steady flow for the discharges (i. Figure 11 illustrates the generated inundation maps for all these cases after 3 days of incidence.

Factors controlling flooding at Tonalá river mouth 237 Figure 9 Inundation maps obtained with different values of the roughness coefficient over the floodplain reported in Table 1 (from the lowest C7 to the highest roughness C1) – red circle indicates the region where subtle differences are identified – snapshots are shown after the forcing of four tidal cycles. J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management .

3. Results related to the incidence of an extreme storm surge peak level of 1. 1000 m3/s and 1600 m3/s over 3 days of model simulations.05 0. and the towns close to this area do not seem to be under the flood hazard (panel (d) in Figure 11).8 m in combination with a river discharge of 800 m3/s reduces the hydraulic efficiency of the river mouth to drain the excess volume of water. This is confirmed by the generation of a flood event along the eastern side of the river mouth.e. is able to drain most of the water entering the system. These results illustrate that even during extreme precipitations. the river mouth is able to drain the excess volume of water without causing any flood damage in the vicinity.3 m (typical during hurricanes) are presented in right panels of Figure 14. In the most intense case. The forcing of this coastal surge conditions is studied in combined scenarios with river discharges of 800 m3/s. In the cases of more intense discharges (1600 m3/s and 2000 m3/s).238 Pedrozo-Acuña et al. although modulated by the tide. For these two scenarios. 4.70 2.06 Manning number in the floodplain. and the central and upper sections of the river are heavily flooded. Figure 14 presents a summary of the inundation maps determined by the combined effects of river discharges and storm surges incident on the study region.2 Coastal forcing – storm surge Two conditions of storm surge are selected. This result points towards the importance of the balance between J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management .90 2. defined by Q = 2000 m3/s. These results further confirm previous observations under moderate river discharge conditions. These are depicted in Figure 13.02 0.95 Inundated area (106 m2) 2. the river mouth is not flooded.8 m and 1. extend along the eastern side of the river (panel (c) in Figure 11). n (m1/3/s) Figure 10 Extent of inundation area versus Manning number (n) over the floodplain.55 2.75 2. In particular. it is evident that the affected area has significantly increased. one which defines a moderate storm surge and another with a more intense peak level. and several towns are affected (panels (d) and (e) in Figure 11).65 2. It is shown that in all the cases.03 0. all instants are shown at the time of maximum water level recorded in the time series. the river discharge. However. large floods are observed at the upper section of the river.04 0. In order to better assess the hydraulic efficiency of the river mouth. This further confirms that the origin of the flood scenario registered for this case is a direct consequence of the moderate storm surge at the river mouth. In the case of an extreme storm surge in combination with a river discharge of 800 m3/s. recorded discharge at the river mouth is 1900 m3/s.3 m are defined.85 2.01 0. The extreme discharge of 2000 m3/s shows severe floods along most of the regions within the floodplain (panel (e) in Figure 11). Moreover. a similar result is obtained in the case of this coastal surge in combination with a river discharge of 1000 m3/s.60 2. significant inundation is also recorded along the upper river close to the river input boundary (see left panels in Figure 14).00 2. numerical results do not show evidence of a flood event in the region close to the river input boundary. The selection of these values is done on the basis of historic events and reported values in Smith and Ward (1998).50 0 0. Notably. These results point towards a highly vulnerable area in the south of the domain to extreme fluvial scenarios (i. Figure 12 presents the estimated numerical discharge for all the fluvial scenarios. the town of La Venta (Tabasco) and Agua Dulce (Veracruz) are affected. It is observed that a coastal surge of 0. nearly 50% of the domain gets flooded except again for the river mouth area. when the river discharge increases to 1600 m3/s. This confirms a highly efficient river mouth under fluvial scenarios. most of the villages located in this region are flooded).80 2. Notably. for the same instant. where surge levels of 0.

respectively – snapshots are shown after the forcing of four tidal cycles.8 m causes floods in the eastern side of the river mouth. While results for the combined action of an extreme surge with a river discharge of 1600 m3/s show the worst case of a flood scenario with significant floods along the upper river and the river mouth. universal transverse mercator. 1600 m3/s and 2000 m3/s. from (a) to (e). A small increase in the water level at the river mouth considerably raises the probability of a major flood event in the region. Similar results are shown for a river discharge of 1000 m3/s.Factors controlling flooding at Tonalá river mouth 239 Figure 11 Numerical outputs for the model simulations with water level variations at the river mouth induced by the astronomical tide and river discharges (Q) of 800 m3/s.3 m inundates both sides (Figure 14). 1000 m3/s. whereas a level of 1. UTM. This is shown in all results where a moderate storm surge of 0. Top panel introduces the time series registered under the pres- © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management . J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 Results indicate that the storm surge level mainly generates floods along the region close to the river mouth. 1300 m3/s. The recorded discharge at the river mouth under the studied storm surge levels is presented in Figure 15. fluvial and coastal forcings within this system.

8 m (blue) and 1. which is positive for most of the time. In the time series of river discharge at the river mouth. 0. there is an instant (at peak surge level) at which the river discharge is nearly reduced to zero. These results are in agreement with those presented by Stewart et al. 1300 m3/s. Figure 12 Tonalá river mouth discharges during the 3-day simulations for discharges (Q) of 800 m3/s. whom indicated that the flood risk along a river is largely dependent on its drainage. Figure 13 Water level at the Tonalá river mouth for storm surge conditions of 0 m (black). (1999).3 m).8 m) peak surge level. indicating that there is no flow outside the domain. Indeed. the direc- tion of the flow is inverted in two cases (800 m3/s and 1000 m3/s). it is possible to identify the time when the surge forcing is triggered. From the visual inspection of the balance between river and coastal fluxes within the river mouth.240 Pedrozo-Acuña et al. This is indicated by the red line in the bottom panel. For the case when the river discharge increases to 1600 m3/s. which indicates the predominance of coastal forcing and the entrance of coastal water into the system.3 m) are shown in bottom panel of Figure 15. it is shown that a storm surge level of 0. showing a direction of the flow towards the Gulf of Mexico (Figure 15). ence of a moderate (0. this increment in the river forcing works against the coastal forcing recovering the draining ability of the river mouth. it is shown that for this surge level. for the lowest discharge tested. which at the same time depends on river discharges and storm surge levels. J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management . while bottom panel illustrates the results under the incidence of an extreme surge (1. In the top panel of Figure 15. The maximum surge level only reduces the draining ability to a minimum but is not able to reverse the flow at the river mouth. Results related to the combined forcing of river discharges and extreme storm surge levels (1. 1600 m3/s and 2000 m3/s.2 m (red) for the model simulations.8 m could considerably reduce the river discharge into the Gulf of Mexico.

water surface elevations and appropriate channel roughness). UTM. elevation from a LiDAR data source and a standard two-D numerical model. 1000 m3/s and 1600 m3/s – snapshots are shown at the instant of peak water level. 5. The work included a sensitivity analysis on mesh resolution effects.3 m (left and right columns. terrain elevation.8 m and 1. Summary and conclusions This study presented an analysis of factors controlling flood characteristics along the lower course of the Tonalá River up to its discharge into the Gulf of Mexico. boundary conditions.Factors controlling flooding at Tonalá river mouth 241 Figure 14 Inundation maps generated for the combined forcing defined by storm surge levels of of 0. Q represents river discharge. The selected integrated approach is novel and follows recommendations put forward in the latest scientific works published on flood risk research.e. followed by an investigation of the roughness © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management . the methodology was comprised of high-quality field measurements. These components were selected with the J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 purpose of reducing some of the well-known uncertainties within modelling results (i. For this. respectively) and river discharges of 800 m3/s. universal transverse mercator.

which restricted a direct data model comparison under extreme conditions. The combined scenario of high discharges and severe storm surge level indicated a delicate balance between river and coastal fluxes within this system. it should be noted that observation data sets for historical flood events were not available. High river discharges Q > 1000 m3/s. The validated model was used to study the sensitivity of the region to floods generated by the combined river and coastal forcing.8 m (top panel) and 1. parameterisation in the floodplain. results were considered helpful.242 Pedrozo-Acuña et al. Thus. On the other hand. therefore it is anticipated that J Flood Risk Management 5 (2012) 226–244 © 2012 The Authors Journal of Flood Risk Management © 2012 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management . it was demonstrated that flood events in the study region are more severe when the drainage of the river is reduced by the presence of a storm surge at the river mouth. whereas severe surges flood both sides of the river mouth. This confirmed the grid independence in the results and enabled an assessment of the use of different roughness values for the river channel and the floodplain. while a more severe storm surge can invert the direction of the flow at the river mouth. the water level at the river mouth has a direct effect on the ability of the river to drain the excess volume of water. It should be noted that this type of investigation has not been undertaken in Mexico. Furthermore. It is expected that floodplains with different vegetation and physical characteristics (e. The exercise allowed the identification of areas highly vul- nerable to flood events generated by both extreme river discharges and storm surges. Notably. A moderate surge level inundates the eastern area of the river mouth. Figure 15 Tonalá river mouth discharges during the 3-day simulations for discharges (Q) of 800 m3/s. the lack of flood events in the region close to the river mouth demonstrated the draining ability of the river during severe fluvial forcing. slope) may behave differently. Furthermore. It was demonstrated that a moderate surge level can reduce the river discharge up to zero. this result may only be valid for this particular case and only for the flood extent. Nevertheless. The reported accuracy of the comparisons between model results and measurements under normal conditions has provided good level of confidence in the approach utilised to characterise the hydraulic system. were identified as an important forcing in the generation of large floods in the upper river (south region of the domain). as they provided a first indicator of possible consequences within the study region under extreme forcing conditions. Despite the inability to validate the predicted flood extent due to lack of available data. It was shown that the prescription of a realistic higher Manning number for the floodplain than that used for the river channel does not have a large impact on the resulting inundation area. results indicated that storm surge levels mainly produce floods in the region close to the river mouth (north).3 m (bottom panel). 1000 m3/s and 1600 m3/s and storm surge levels of 0.g.

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