Posted in

Building on our previous project to communicate the impacts of extreme storms known as nor’easters, Schoodic Institute is part of a new project with researchers at the University of Rhode Island and Penn State University funded by a four-year, $1.5 million grant through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study the effects of sea level rise and how it may worsen the impact of extreme weather. The overall goal of the project is to help communities, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adapt and improve resilience as climate continues to change and extreme weather such as hurricanes and nor’easters continue to increase in terms of frequency and severity.

According to NOAA, the rate of sea level rise is accelerating. Since 1993, the average global sea level has increased by 3.4 inches. By the end of the century, it is likely to rise at least one foot over 2000 levels. Sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion, and other hazards, affecting nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population living in high-population density coastal areas. However, despite what is known about sea level rise, there is a lack of research available when it comes to how the impacts of nor’easters and hurricanes may be amplified as a result.

“There are a number of studies that have been done looking at just sea level rise or just extreme weather, but what we’re really lacking in terms of clear understanding is the combined impact of these two phenomena,” said Isaac Ginis, professor of oceanography, who is leading the study. “This is especially important to us on the East Coast and in New England, where we’ve seen significant coastal flooding produced by waves and storm surge during nor’easters and hurricanes. How these effects are amplified by sea level rise has been largely unexplored. This information gap inhibits our ability to properly plan for the future and is likely to lead to under-informed and ineffective adaptation measures.”

The project will expand the body of research related to the effects of extreme weather and sea level rise on five New England national parks and two wildlife refuges – Cape Cod National Seashore, Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, and New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park in Massachusetts; Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge, Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge, and Roger Williams National Memorial in Rhode Island; and Acadia National Park in Maine – as well as their surrounding communities.

The team will provide high-resolution recreations of the impact of future storm and sea level rise scenarios, identifying vulnerabilities in the ecosystems and infrastructure of the identified sites and their adjacent communities. Researchers will work closely with the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and community stakeholders to tailor the research and translate the science in a way that can be incorporated into local resource management and adaptation measures to improve coastal resilience and to protect communities, people and infrastructure, and ecosystems.

Taking historical data into account as well as topography, geology, water depth, land elevation, natural processes such as shoreline changes, and human influence, the team will be able to project more than 50 years into the future, using 3-D visualization to provide computer simulations illustrating storm hazards and identifying potentially effective mitigation measures.

Schoodic Institute will lead community engagement in the Acadia National Park region. Schoodic Institute will also lead the science communication component among all locations, incorporating lessons learned into guidance for communicating climate change in Northeast coastal parks and other protected areas.

Ultimately, the project will create opportunity for dialogue between researchers, communities, and federal resource managers, and facilitate the development of best practices that will guide future policies and resource management strategies.

Read the full press release from University of Rhode Island.