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date: 29 April 2017

Systems Approaches for Coastal Hazard Assessment and Resilience

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Worldwide, low-lying coastal land margins are becoming increasingly vulnerable to natural and manmade disasters due to the effects of climate change, population dynamics, saltwater intrusion, loss of coastal ecosystems, and erosion of coastlines. In 2003, it was estimated that 1.2 billion people (23% of the world’s population) lived within 100 km of a shoreline and 100 m in elevation of mean sea level. As populations increase, coastal areas are also susceptible to additional stresses due to land-use and hydrological changes. In addition to human communities, the coastal land margin includes ecologically and economically significant estuaries and wetlands. Coastal wetlands and marshes provide food, shelter, and nursery areas for commercially harvested fish and shellfish. Wetlands also help protect coastal communities by mitigating impacts of storm surge and erosion.

A System of Systems (SoS) approach is best for assessing potential future coastal hazards and their impacts. Employing an SoS framework permits new patterns and properties to emerge (i.e., nonlinear and dynamic effects of climate change) that would otherwise be unobserved using simplified models. The SoS framework also allows the sea level rise (SLR) projections, and other subsystems, to be linked to carbon emission scenarios so the full climate change impact is considered for all subsystems. Furthermore, this approach to studying coastal hazards supports the translation of science to application as coastal managers require scientific data regarding the potential impacts of SLR to make informed decisions to manage human and natural communities. Synergetic studies that integrate the dynamic interaction among physical, ecological, and anthropogenic environments are required to better predict the impacts to the coastal system in a more holistic fashion. Individually, observations and modeling are insufficient for making scientifically defensible, detailed, and credible assessments of the dynamic response of the coastal region under future SLR conditions. The capability exists to model the bio-geo-physical system, link that modeling to the historic record, and produce a dynamic coastal response to SLR using a SoS framework. Further, incorporating economic and ecosystem services valuations into the SoS enables stakeholders to better understand and assess future coastal hazards and enhance coastal resiliency.