NSF Funds Development of Research Network for Infrastructure Responses to Coastal Hazards

Elisabeth Hamin
Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Department head Elisabeth Hamin (landscape architecture and regional planning), with colleagues Don DeGroot (UMass Amherst, Civil and Environmental Engineering), Melissa Kenney (University of Maryland, Decision Science), Thomas Sheahan (Northeastern, Civil and Environmental Engineering), has received $737,000 over five years from the National Science Foundation’s Research Collaboration Network (RCN): Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES). Their project, “Sustainable Adaptive Gradients in the Coastal Environment (SAGE): Reconceptualizing the Role of Infrastructure in Resilience” aims to develop a transdisciplinary network of researchers and policymakers focusing on the Caribbean and U.S. Northeast that will put forward a shared framework for better informing resilient coastal infrastructure decisions based on physical, natural, and societal conditions.

“The network of US, 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,” Hamin says. “The RCN’s products will be 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.”

All of these activities are intended to promote a diverse and comprehensive research network that fosters the future development of transformative, policy-relevant research initiatives. A new resilient infrastructure framework serves as the basis for this RCN, and includes understanding communities as existing and evolving within adaptive gradients, addressing spill-over and equity effects of infrastructure decisions, using evidence regarding the impacts of fast-onset disasters (e.g., hurricanes, tsunamis) to improve practices and policies for chronic, slow-onset phenomena (e.g. sea level rise), and tying the application of theory to increasingly available indicators of climate change and local conditions. Caribbean region researchers and policy-makers are key partners in this effort as they bring extensive practical and research experience in managing disaster risk and recent highly innovative regional approaches to adapting to climate change.

Recent storm events in the U.S. Northeast demonstrate that there is a pressing need for coordinated research into the resilience of coastal infrastructures to current hazards and the evolving effects of climate change. Infrastructure includes physical structures, ecological services, and the social practices that influence the impact of hazards such as hurricanes and coastal flooding. Caribbean communities have long experience with planning for and responding to coastal hazards, while the Northeast has sophisticated infrastructural and research capacity on this topic.

This project will create a network of US, Caribbean and European engineers, geoscientists, ecologists, social scientists, planners and policymakers to develop and promote a robust interdisciplinary analytic framework for the wide range of possible infrastructure responses to coastal hazards, including social, ecological, and engineering/technical factors. This will allow policymakers to have clearer selection criteria for location-appropriate and climate-adapted sustainable coastal infrastructure policy.

Coordination of research between the 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 US minority students and researchers in, and improve student and professional access to, training in coastal resilient infrastructure design, planning and policy-making.

Hamin, who was an inaugural Research Scholar with the Institute for Social Science Research this past year, worked on this grant proposal during that period. She praises the ISSR team for their hard work and support. “Because my work is collaborative and transdisciplinary, the proposal was complicated. The institute’s staff members Karen Mason and Sarah Vega-Liros helped me enormously completing it, and ISSR Scholar Mentors Charli Carpenter and Mary Fechner were terrific in keeping all of us ISSR scholars on track. It’s a great team.”