The National Science Foundation has selected Oregon State University and the University of Washington to lead a collaborative research hub focused on increasing resiliency among coastal communities in the Pacific Northwest.
The Pacific Northwest coastline is at significant risk of earthquakes from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which stretches nearly 700 miles along the coast from Cape Mendocino in California to Oregon, Washington and Vancouver Island, Canada.
In addition to this acute threat, the region also faces chronic risks such as coastal erosion, regional flooding and sea level rise due to climate change, said Peter Ruggiero, the project’s principal investigator and a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.
“There are many dimensions to resilience, including quality of life, economics, health, engineering and more,” he said. “This research hub is a way to bring together many groups with interest in coastal resilience who have not had the resources to work together on these issues.”
The initial award for the Cascadia Coastlines and Peoples Hazards Research Hub, or Cascadia CoPes Hub, is for $7.2 million and the total request over five years is nearly $18.9 million. The hub will provide an avenue for coordinating research in Pacific Northwest coastal communities among numerous academic and government organizations to inform and enable integrated hazard assessment, mitigation and adaptation in collaboration with local communities.
“This issue requires a regional approach,” said co-principal investigator Ann Bostrom, a co-principal investigator and 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, to new ways of engaging with communities. There are a lot of aspects built into this project that have us all excited.”
Additional partners on the project include the University of Oregon, OSU-based Oregon Sea Grant, Washington Sea Grant, the William D. Ruckleshaus Center at Washington State University, Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., the United States Geological Survey, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Georgia Tech and Arizona State University.
The hub is part of the National Science Foundation’s Coastlines and People Program, an effort to help coastal communities across the country become more resilient in the face of mounting environmental pressure. Nearly 40% of the U.S population lives within a coastal county. More than $29 million in grants were awarded to five proposals for the fiscal year 2021. Oregon State’s award is one of two “large-scale” hub awards.
The Cascadia hub will focus on two broad areas of research: advancing understanding of the risks of Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquakes and other chronic and acute geological hazards to coastal regions; and reducing disaster risk through comprehensive assessment, mitigation and adaptation planning and policymaking.
“Understanding not only who is vulnerable to coastal hazards, but how future adaptation and mitigation measures can impact different segments of the population, particularly underrepresented populations, is key to developing measures that are equitable and just,” said Jenna Tilt, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences who is part of the research hub leadership team. “This research hub provides the resources to do just that.”
Ruggiero said the project intentionally emphasizes incorporating traditional ecological knowledge from the region’s Native American tribes as well as local ecological knowledge from fishermen, farmers and others who have personal history and experience with coastal challenges and can provide unique perspectives on what coastal resiliency means to their communities.
“I’ve been working on the issue of coastal hazards my entire career,” he said. “Over the last decade, it has become clear that the best way to make a difference is to work closely with communities, starting with involving them in research design. The National Science Foundation will bring significant resources to this effort, but we also will bring in voices that have not been heard before.”
Researchers also plan to provide training for the next generation of coastal hazards scientists and leaders, with an emphasis on reaching underrepresented groups. The Cascadia Coastal Hazards and Resilience Training, Education and Research, or CHARTER, program will offer formal and informal training, education and hazards science research across the middle school, high school, undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels.
A CHARTER Fellows program will provide undergraduate students opportunities to engage in research and serve as role models for high school students.
“This program provides a unique opportunity for students who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color); Latinx; LGBTQ; first generation; and/or low-income, in all academic disciplines to participate in research,” said Dwaine Plaza, co-principal investigator and professor of sociology at Oregon State. “Fellows will be collecting meaningful data in Cascadia coastal communities and sharing their findings with middle and high school students in order to excite them about the possibilities of becoming coastal hazards scientists and leaders in the region.”