Initiative will help vulnerable areas of the Gulf Coast cope with rising sea levels

The National Science Foundation-funded project, led by University of Miami College of Engineering researcher Murat Erkoc, will use a mix of strategies to tackle one of the biggest challenges of climate change.

Consider this a glimpse into the future, a crystal ball view of what supply chain networks and the delivery of goods and services will look like in Gulf Coast communities if the level rise of the sea continues unabated in the region.

Last summer, hundreds of thousands of people were left without power when Hurricane Ida destroyed more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines in Louisiana and Mississippi. The Category 4 storm also closed roads and ports in the region, affecting the ability of responders to deliver aid and disrupting the availability of everything from food and gas to electronics.

Indeed, hurricanes demonstrate without the slightest ambiguity the mess that several feet of water can cause in a short time.

Unchecked sea level rise would have catastrophic long-term, if not permanent, effects, decimating urban and rural communities in the Gulf of Mexico coastal region, which are already among the most susceptible to the effects of rising seas.

Now, a University of Miami researcher is leading an initiative that has the potential to help these communities respond to and mitigate what is arguably the greatest challenge of the climate emergency.

“Our goal is to apply systems engineering principles, such as coordination and integration, to the problem,” said Murat Erkoc, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at University of Miami College. of Engineering and Principal Investigator of the project.

“Urban and rural areas along the Gulf are part of a geographic continuum composed of interdependent nodes connected by synergistic links, in which urban areas depend on rural areas for natural resources and rural areas depend on urban areas for service,” he explained. . “Although the nodes are each unique in their socio-economic and environmental context, they are connected by transportation networks, maritime trade, oil and gas pipelines, ecosystem-based natural infrastructure, human migration routes, culture and technology. Sea level rise threatens these connections.

His National Science Foundation-funded project will help these areas maintain connections, using strategies ranging from levees and managed retreat to adaptation.

“Preparing for the risks of sea level rise is a challenge that connects communities in the Gulf, from small towns to big cities,” said co-lead researcher Katharine Mach, associate professor of environmental policy at the Rosenstiel School. of Marine and Atmospheric from the University. Science. “We want to create crucial interactions between disciplines and communities, and between the present and the future of adaptation to sea level rise.”

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University, Louisiana State University and Texas A&M University are collaborating with Erkoc and Mach.

Gulf Coast communities in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are among the most vulnerable to rising seas. While a recent study from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science reported that the rate of sea level rise along much of the US coastline continues to accelerate, the highest rates were recorded on along the Gulf of Mexico, with one location, Grand Isle, Louisiana, seeing an increase of nearly 8 millimeters per year.

“We reviewed the literature, asking what techniques and approaches were used to address this important challenge,” Erkoc said. “And what we’ve found is that while the majority of work has been on predictive models of sea level rise, others that offer solutions are narrow in scope, focusing on one aspect particular of the problem.”

Through online and in-person charrettes and workshops, and with community members playing an active role in the process, Erkoc’s group will work to build the capacity of a convergent research network that will help stakeholders and decision-makers to respond to the crisis in coordination with each other.

“A solution, especially if offered separately, will not work well for all parties involved,” Erkoc noted. “For example, hard protection like seawalls can reduce the immediate impact of sea level rise, but they can inadvertently put a barrier between communities and other parts of nature. A mix of measures is necessary. »

Aid to disadvantaged neighborhoods in Gulf Coast communities will be a major component of the project. “These enclaves constitute a large part of the urban and rural population of this region, which leads to a high degree of social vulnerability,” Erkoc explained. “The three most typical sea level rise response strategies – protection, accommodation and retreat – are often practiced differently between urban and rural areas. Existing climate adaptation plans indicate that urban areas are more likely to establish protection strategies while rural areas are more likely to completely ignore the problem or consider abandonment rather than conduct comprehensive, collaborative and robust planning.

He added that the relationships formed by the different entities will help sustain research and engagement beyond the project.

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