URI selected by Homeland Security to partner on coastal resiliency research

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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – May 6, 2015 – The University of Rhode Island has been selected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to be one of two primary partners, along with Jackson State University, in the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The selection, which could result in funding in excess of $2.5 million, enables URI to provide key research designed to help build resiliency along our nation’s coastlines and prepare for increasingly severe coastal hazards.


The UNC center was established in 2008 to perform research and develop tools, technologies, products, models and educational programs to enhance the nation’s ability to safeguard populations, properties, and economies from coastal hazards.


“We are thrilled to be working with the Department of Homeland Security and the University of North Carolina to build coastal resiliency around the nation,” said Thomas Miller, director of administration at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography and the principal investigator in the partnership. “We have a great deal of subject matter expertise in research, applied science and policy development that we can bring to bear to advance many of the ongoing initiatives at the center.”


Two of three funded research projects focus on the design of tools and methods to enable communities to become better prepared for sea level rise, more intense hurricanes, and other coastal hazards associated with climate change.


One will address how best to communicate the risks of increasing coastal hazards to motivate individuals to prepare and mitigate potential impacts. This initiative will build upon the work of behavior change expert and URI Psychology Professor James Prochaska, whose model of behavior change has been applied to more than 50 health behaviors including smoking, exercise and diet and more recently has branched to behaviors such as climate change and sustainable transportation.


The second project aims to overcome barriers to community action by identifying opportunities where collective action can mitigate potential impacts. Community members will be invited to engage in a simulated decision-making process, led by URI environmental economist James Opaluch, to test the effectiveness of various incentives and policies designed to address coastal hazards.


“These two projects build upon some critical needs we have identified in our work on climate adaptation and resilience here in Rhode Island and in our international programs,” said Pam Rubinoff, coastal management extension specialist at the Graduate School of Oceanography’s Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant, who will participate in both projects.


The third research project, led by Oceanography Professor Chris Kincaid, will use Rhode Island coastal waters as a test bed in developing the next generation of computer modeling technologies for simulating the physical processes associated with hurricanes hitting coastal communities. The project will apply a novel coupling of hurricane-ocean models with models of water flow through coastal oceans and inland watersheds.


“We’re looking to better understand and predict what happens when hurricanes make landfall – the storm surge and watershed flooding and other effects – so that information can be used to influence policies, planning and management of these hazards,” said Kincaid, who will work closely on the project with URI Oceanography Professors Isaac Ginis and Lewis Rothstein.


“I’m proud that URI’s leadership and expertise in coastal resilience has been recognized by Homeland Security through this designation and award,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, who supported the 2014 DHS Appropriations Act to fund various Centers of Excellence across the country and make grants like this possible. “As a partner in the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence, URI will help coastal communities in Rhode Island and throughout the country take steps to protect, preserve, and prepare for the challenges associated with climate change, coastal storms, and other hazards.”


“Disasters like Hurricane Sandy remind us how important it is to prepare for the threats facing our coastal communities,” added Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a founding member and co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus. “And with the changes underway in our oceans – like rising sea levels and warming waters – we’ll need the best and brightest for the job. That’s why I’m glad URI will be able to contribute its considerable skills and knowledge to this effort. I hope this helps URI enhance the reputation it deserves as leading experts at addressing the various effects of climate change on the world’s coasts.”