Researchers Get NSF Grant to Develop Research Network for Infrastructure Responses to Coastal Hazards

Elisabeth Hamin

AMHERST, Mass. – A team of researchers led by UMass Amherst professors Elisabeth Hamin and Don DeGroot has received a $737,000 five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a network of researchers and policymakers that will put forward a shared framework for better coastal infrastructure planning in the Caribbean and the Northeast.

The researchers’ project, “Sustainable Adaptive Gradients in the Coastal Environment: Reconceptualizing the Role of Infrastructure in Resilience,” is a Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability activity in the NSF’s Research Collaboration Network (RCN) program.

Recent major storms in the Northeast have demonstrated a pressing need for coordinated research into the evolving effects of climate change and the resilience to hurricanes and flooding of infrastructure such as buildings, services, and social practices in coastal regions.

Beginning in January 2014 and running through December 2018, the project will create a network of U.S., Caribbean and European engineers, geoscientists, ecologists, social scientists, planners and policymakers. This research network will develop and promote an analytic framework for the wide range of possible infrastructure responses to coastal hazards, providing policymakers clearer selection criteria for location-appropriate and climate-adapted sustainable coastal infrastructure policy.

The goals of the research include addressing the effects of infrastructure decisions, using evidence regarding the impacts of fast-onset disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis, improving the practices and policies for chronic slow-onset phenomena such as rising sea-levels, and tying the application of theory to increasingly available indicators of climate change and local conditions.

Caribbean region researchers and policymakers are key partners in this effort, as they bring extensive experience in managing disaster risk and highly innovative approaches to adapting to climate change. Caribbean communities have long experienced planning for and responding to coastal hazards, while the Northeast U.S. has sophisticated infrastructural and research capacity on this topic. Coordination of research between these two regions opens possibilities for improving the long-term sustainability of coastal communities in both locations by improving decision-making regarding effective and sustainable new infrastructure. The project will generate greater participation among U.S. minority students and researchers and improve student and professional access to training in coastal resilient infrastructure design, planning and policymaking.

“The network of U.S., Caribbean and European engineers, geoscientists, ecologists, social scientists, planners and policymakers is designed to build connections among diverse disciplines and improve the flow of information among leading researchers worldwide who are working on these topics,” says Hamin, a professor of landscape architecture and regional planning. “This work will produce annual, intensive three- to four-day workshops, webinars, a training module synthesizing our findings, a survey of educational pathways in resilient infrastructure, journal publications and white-papers for policymakers translating our research findings into accessible language.”

Joining Hamin and DeGroot, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, in this initiative will be Melissa Kenney of the University of Maryland and Thomas Sheahan from Northeastern University. Community and Caribbean partner organizations include personnel from the International Institute for Environment and Development, the University of Puerto Rico, and the University of the West Indies, as well as NOAA, Yale, Rutgers, and the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute.