Congress on Coastal Resilience

The NOAA Center for Climate and Weather Prediction in College Park, Maryland image: Alexandra Hay
The NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Maryland
image: Alexandra Hay

The Renewable Natural Resources Foundation (RNRF) held a Congress earlier this month at the NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction on the subject of Coastal Resilience and Risk, an issue that already has a significant impact on most of the United States’, and the world’s, numerous coastal communities. Home to more than half of the nation’s population, the United States’ coasts are especially vulnerable. Currently, there is no shared vision or unified national program to reduce flood risk, and the issue is further complicated by a lack of funding for comprehensive flood mapping programs and a widespread lack of understanding of the risks that flooding entails.

After showing a clip from “Forecasting Sea Level Rise for Maryland,” Zoe Johnson, Program Manager for Climate Policy and Planning in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Office for a Sustainable Future, discussed the mounting problems that the state of Maryland now faces due to intensifying floods. Thirteen islands in Chesapeake Bay have already been lost, and there are more than 400,000 acres of low-lying land in Maryland alone threatened by rising sea levels. The state’s integrated approach to coastal resilience incorporates land use and smart growth planning, transportation planning, building codes, and natural resource management. Design and siting guidelines for construction and infrastructure take into account flood risks, and policymakers are working to promote and institutionalize “coast smart” practices through policy changes.

A key issue raised throughout the Congress presentations was how to communicate risk, and how to make the immediacy and urgency of the problem clear even to those who have not yet been directly affected by it. A broad portfolio of risk management actions must be developed and implemented as soon as possible, so that resilience can be built in to our communities and infrastructure now, as opposed to reacting to disasters after the fact. Enhancing coastal resilience will require an integrated approach that combines both climate change mitigation and adaptation, and both green and gray infrastructure.

One of the East Coast's many rapidly changing barrier islands: Fire Island, New York in January, 2010 (left) and November, 2013 (right) image: Alexandra Hay
One of the East Coast’s rapidly changing barrier islands: the same view of Fire Island, New York in January, 2010 (left) and November, 2013 (right)
image: Alexandra Hay

Margaret Davidson, Acting Director of NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, described landscape architects and ecologists as “the original systems people.” Integrated, systems-oriented approaches are a critical and central part of landscape architecture, which is an inherently broad and far-reaching field that includes both the natural and built environments, and the intersections and interactions between the two.

One of the themes of Dale Morris’, Senior Economist for the Royal Netherlands Embassy, presentation was the concept of “landscape as destiny” that is already well-established in the Netherlands: the landscape determines what you can and cannot do. With 60% of the country at or below sea level, sound water management practices is a matter of national survival in the Netherlands, and has been for centuries. Among the many Dutch projects highlighted in the presentation were:

  • Building with Nature and the Delfland Sand Engine: a green-engineering endeavor that uses a sand engine to create an artificial peninsula. Water then distributes the sand along the coast naturally.
  • Scheveningen Boulevard: for this beach town, a sea dike that was attractive and that would not disrupt commerce was needed. The end result both protected the town and improved the urban environment, rather than detracting from the shore’s visual appeal.
  • Katwijk: this popular beach town was often crowded with visitors’ cars, so a parking garage was built under a dune.
  • Room for the River Program, 2006-2015: representing a shift from flood resistance to flood accommodation, the program has two equal goals: flood risk reduction and enhancing the spatial qualities of the environment.

PDFs of the Congress speakers’ PowerPoint presentations and a list of further reading on the subject are currently available on the RNRF website.

RNRF is a consortium of nine organizations focused on the advancement of interdisciplinary science and collaboration: the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Water Resources Association, the Geological Society of America, the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, the Society of Wood Science and Technology, and the Universities Council on Water Resources.

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