WSG News Blog

Research, education hub on ‘coastal resiliency’ will focus on earthquakes, coastal erosion and climate change

September 7, 2021

Credit: Oregon State University

The National Science Foundation has funded a multi-institutional team including Washington Sea Grant to work on increasing resiliency among Pacific Northwest coastal communities.

Led by Oregon State University and the University of Washington, the new Cascadia Coastlines and Peoples Hazards Research Hub, or Cascadia CoPes Hub, will serve coastal communities in Northern California, Oregon and Washington. The hub’s multidisciplinary approach will span geoscience, social science, public policy and community partnerships.

The Pacific Northwest coastline is at significant risk of earthquakes from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, an offshore fault that stretches more than 600 miles from Cape Mendocino in California to southern British Columbia. The region also faces ongoing risks from coastal erosion, regional flooding and rising seas due to climate change.

Based at OSU, the Cascadia CoPes Hub will increase the capacity of coastal communities to adapt through community engagement and co-production of research, and by training a new generation of coastal hazards scientists and leaders from currently underrepresented communities.

The initial award is for $7.2 million over the first two years, with the bulk split between OSU and the UW. The total award, subject to renewals, is $18.9 million over five years.

“This issue requires a regional approach,” said co-principal investigator Ann Bostrom, a UW professor of public policy and governance. “This new research hub has the potential to achieve significant advances across the hazard sciences — from the understanding of governance systems, to having a four-dimensional understanding of Cascadia faults and how they work, and better understanding the changing risks of compound fluvial-coastal flooding, to new ways of engaging with communities to co-produce research that will be useful for coastal planning and decisions in our region. There are a lot of aspects built into this project that have us all excited.”

Carrie Garrison-Laney and Ian Miller, tsunami and coastal hazards specialists at WSG, will serve as coastal community leads. “The hub seeks to collaborate with communities, especially underrepresented communities, and connect them to research that integrates community knowledge, interests and needs, and supports adaptive capacity,” said Garrison-Laney. The community collaborations, engagement and outreach will focus on five areas: Humboldt County, California; greater Coos Bay, Oregon; Newport to Astoria, Oregon; Tokeland to Taholah, Washington; and from Everett to Bellingham, Washington.

“We have a lot to learn from the communities in our region, and part of the proposal is to help communities learn from each other, as well,” Bostrom said.

The Cascadia hub is part of the NSF’s newly announced Coastlines and People Program, an effort to help coastal communities become more resilient in the face of mounting environmental pressures. Nearly 40% of the U.S. population lives in a coastal county. The NSF established one other large-scale hub for research and broadening participation, in New Jersey, and focused hubs in Texas, North Carolina and Virginia.

The Cascadia hub will focus on two broad areas: advancing understanding of the risks of Cascadia earthquakes and other geological hazards to coastal regions; and reducing disaster risk through assessment, planning and policymaking.

“We’re not thinking only about the possibility of one magnitude-9 earthquake; this effort is about the fabric of hazards over time,” said co-principal investigator Harold Tobin, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences and director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. “The heart of this project is merging physical science and social science with a community focus in an integrated way — translating scientific discovery with actions that coastal communities can use.”

The project intentionally emphasizes incorporating traditional ecological knowledge from the region’s Native American tribes as well as local ecological knowledge from fishers, farmers and others who have personal history and experience with coastal challenges.

“We are committed to co-producing research together with coastal communities and integrating multiple perspectives about disaster risk and its management,” said Nicole Errett, an assistant professor in UW’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, who is co-leading the hub’s Community Adaptive Capacity and Community Engagement and Outreach teams.

“There are many dimensions to resilience, including economics, health, engineering and more,” said principal investigator Peter Ruggiero, a professor at OSU. “This research hub is a way to bring together a lot of groups with interest in coastal resilience but have not had the resources to work together on these issues.”

The research hub’s other principal investigators are Alison Duvall, a UW assistant professor of Earth and space sciences who will lead efforts to quantify the timing, triggers and effects of landslide hazards on communities and landscape evolution, and Dwaine Plaza, a professor of sociology at OSU. The other institutional partners are Oregon Sea Grant, University of Oregon, Washington State University, Humboldt State University, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Georgia Tech University and Arizona State University.