Andy Keeler of the UNC Coastal Studies Institute (UNC CSI) and East Carolina University (ECU) is part of an interdisciplinary team that has been awarded a 4-year, 1.5 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study adaptation on barrier islands and low-lying coastal areas. The team consists of economists, geologists, and physical oceanographers at UNC-W, UNC-CH, Colorado, Georgia, Ohio State, and Duke as well as UNC CSI and ECU. Funded through NSF’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program, this project will analyze the ways in which coastal processes and economic decisions about land use and coastal engineering interact to determine the nature and timing of adaptation to climate risk. It will focus on the towns of Ocean City, MD and Nags Head, NC but the results are expected to be broadly applicable to coastal communities. It addresses the interactions of natural forces, economic decisions, and public policies over long time horizons to determine how the built environment and patterns of human settlement react to rising seas and other climatic forces. These issues are of concern to a significant part of the US population, especially along the East and Gulf of Mexico coasts that face increasing threats from flooding and storm damage. A fundamental aim of this work is to provide knowledge and tools to look further forward in time in responding to coastal and climatic processes. It will shed light on the timing of marginal adaptive actions (e.g. shoreline engineering) relative to more discontinuous responses (e.g. relocation to less risky areas). The research will significantly advance knowledge about how coastal geomorphology reacts to short- and long-term climatic processes. It will also advance understanding of how real estate markets will react to diverse and complex changes in environmental conditions, public policies, scientific knowledge, and individual attitudes and values.
Because one key set of human actions involves direct manipulation of the coastal environment through seawalls, beach fill, and dune construction, this work will carefully examine two-way interactions between natural and human systems. Natural systems will be represented by state-of-the-art three-dimensional coastal geomorphology models to significantly improve predictions about the way coastal systems evolve over time. The economic system will be investigated through a novel specification of the property markets in two US east coast communities and will be informed by surveys and qualitative research into residents’ knowledge of climate risks and preferences for coastal amenities and infrastructure. The project will investigate the way that public policies – including government-managed insurance, engineering projects, disaster relief, and infrastructure – will impact both economic decisions and the coastal environment. The resulting modeling structure will be a significant step forward in modeling community-environment interactions in response to climate change over long timescales, and the code and model structure will be made both accessible and usable to the research and policy communities.