Integrated Geospatial, Cultural, and Social Assessment of Coastal Resilience to Climate Change

Principal Investigator:

Michael Paolisso

Start/End Year:

2016 - 2018


University of Maryland, College Park

Co-Principal Investigator:

Brian Needelman, University of Maryland, Department of Environmental Science and Technology; Christina Prell, University of Maryland, Department of Sociology; Klaus Hubacek, University of Maryland, Department of Geographical Sciences

Strategic focus area:

Resilient communities and economies


Limited exchange occurs between science researchers implementing traditional coastal resilience assessments and social scientists engaged in research on vulnerability and resilience of communities to climate change impacts. Better integration of geospatial and modeling data with social science knowledge has the potential to reveal critical decision points leading to more resilient communities, economies and ecosystems. Effective decision-making under conditions of uncertainty can benefit from collaborative knowledge creation sustained through networks of stakeholders with diverse and complementary expertise. We propose to expand upon previous work by the Deal Island Project focusing on social-ecological system resilience in the Deal Island Peninsula area. This rural coastal area is a historic and iconic region of the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland's Eastern Shore. Many problems faced here will be echoed in systems throughout the region and eastern seaboard. We propose to conduct an Integrated Coastal Resilience Assessment (ICRA) of the Deal Island Peninsula area that combines geospatial, cultural and social research to identify ecosystem and community vulnerabilities and resilience to climate change impacts and evaluates restoration and adaptation strategies. The proposed research will extend traditional coastal resilience assessments by integrating two social science approaches, cultural consensus and social network analysis, alongside more traditional geospatial and modeling approaches. The ICRA will proceed in three phases: I) assessment of vulnerability and resilience via geospatial and social science analyses, II) analysis and initial prioritization of restoration and adaptation strategies through engagement of an existing and growing stakeholder network, and III) resiliency implementation (phase III would occur following the proposed work). A portion of ICRA phase I wilI be completed prior to the initiation of the Sea Grant project by leveraging funds from the University of Maryland and the MD DNR Coastal and Chesapeake Service. The project will support a multidisciplinary team including social scientists, ecologists, a geospatial analyst, a coastal trainer, watershed and community extension agents, and others in the project's stakeholder network. Our objectives include quantifying cultural knowledge about vulnerability and resilience to climate change in order to identify patterns of agreement and disagreement within our stakeholder network and better understanding how social institutions and relationships among stakeholders affect the creation, flow, transfer, translation and valuation of intra- and inter-group cultural knowledge and values about resilience and climate. Outreach activities will target stakeholders within the project's network and technical service providers and others involved in multi-disciplinary teams conducting coastal resilience assessments. Deliverables include an outreach technical product, maps and visualization tools, website content, and refined methodologies for the implementation of an ICRA. A collaborative and interdisciplinary ICRA process holds tremendous promise to effectively build the resilience of coastal communities and ecosystems.


Relevance: Many rural Eastern Shore communities are not incorporated, and have no elected officials who live in their midst and understand their needs, making it hard for communities to receive attention from government agencies. In many cases, these communities are on low-lying land and feel disproportionately the effects of flooding. Communities need guidance to discuss and understand their flooding and erosion risks, which are primarily due to rising sea level because of climate change. These towns often lack information about financing adaptation strategies to reduce their risk. In addition, they need assistance to connect with emergency planners and government officials.

Response: The Maryland Sea Grant funded team and its partners combined science, modeling and stakeholder knowledge to collect community-level data to support adaptation planning. Key components included building cultural consensus within communities and conducting social network analysis. These methods empower communities to work together and identify important groups and/or individuals critical to adaptation success. Team members conducted surveys and workshops with communities and identified two key issues of concern: shoreline protection and ditch maintenance. They are using geo-spatial and experiential knowledge to assess threats and mitigate against them. Together, they are figuring out the best adaptation strategies for a culturally rich region that is nonetheless in danger of losing its communities.

Results: This collaborative effort helped guide the state of Maryland to plan a living shoreline project to minimize local erosion and make the communities more resilient. The $1 million project includes removal of invasive species and a dune construction project. The project leaders were also able to bring state officials into a conversation about cleaning and maintaining drainage ditches in their communities to reduce flooding. The project leaders have become trusted partners in the communities, and have been effective at communicating concerns to local leaders. The team's approach is recognized as a template for helping rural communities address local problems associated with climate change.

Related Publications:

Johnson, K; Feurt, C; Paolisso, M. 2018. Collaborative Science and Learning as Tools for Climate Change Adaptation Planning The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses10(1):59 -75. doi:10.18848/1835-7156/CGP/v10i01/59-75. UM-SG-RS-2018-03.

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