Coastal Change

Vulnerability, Mitigation, and Restoration

Coastal decision makers need to understand the risks and vulnerabilities facing their communities and ecosystems in order to help them become resilient. Coastal decision makers can include city, county, and state elected officials, coastal and emergency managers and planners, leaders of industry or neighborhood associations. NCCOS develops models and tools that integrate biological, hydrologic, physical, socioeconomic, and other factors to evaluate coastal resilience. NCCOS provides assessments of a community or ecosystem’s characteristics to provide a better understanding of how extreme events will impact its residents’ or natural systems’ ability to be resilient. These characteristics, which are subject to the impact and response of the community or ecosystem to events and disturbances, can help determine the vulnerability of the collective community, beyond its geographic, economic, or infrastructural vulnerabilities.

Together with other NOAA partners, NCCOS conveys useful risk and vulnerability assessment information to guide mitigative and adaptive planning under multiple management scenarios. Communities improve their capacity to plan, recover and adapt.

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How important is a natural coastline in protecting communities from the impact of storms and floods? A study conducted by The Nature Conservancy says coastal wetlands prevented more than $625 million in property damages during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and reduced property damages throughout the Northeast by 10 percent on average.

Recently, the use of natural and nature-based features (NNBF) has gained traction as a means to mitigate the potential impacts of extreme events, sea level rise, and inundation of coastal communities. Natural and nature-based features refers to a spectrum of features that employ a combination of natural and human engineered structures to create a shoreline. The effective use of these natural and nature-based approaches requires data to provide guidance on how, where, and when to best employ NNBF solutions. NCCOS provides the research and science components and partners with NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management to help coastal communities use NNBF as an effective and aesthetically-pleasing strategy to enhance their resilience.

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Because the coastal zone is dominated by dynamic and complex interactions among biological and physical processes, we cannot yet accurately predict when or what threats will emerge, or how they will affect the 124 million people who live in U.S. coastal counties. Approximately 39 percent of Americans living in coastal counties fall into an elevated coastal hazard risk category. These include children, the elderly, households where English isn’t the primary language, and those in poverty.

NCCOS is helping communities mitigate and adapt to climate change by conducting research on detecting and assessing change in coastal ecosystems. By observing the ecological responses of coastal habitats and species to climate change, NCCOS can help communities understand ecosystem relationships and develop indicators to evaluate progress towards long-term community resilience.

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Coastal ecosystems are vulnerable to habitat loss from impacts such as boat groundings and declining water quality. Habitat restoration offers a way to regain ecosystem services lost as a result of acute or chronic injuries.

NCCOS is a leader in coastal restoration science, and will continue to develop scientific tools and evaluate methods to guide restoration of impacted habitats. This includes research to improve the scientific framework for natural resource damage assessment and restoration, and developing sound mitigation and remediation strategies. NCCOS will continue to establish national and international guidelines on conservation and restoration of corals, seagrasses, and other critical habitats.

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Coastal storms, flooding, and rising seas pose a persistent threat to coastal communities; in 2016, the United States experienced 15 weather and climate disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion. Businesses can suffer loss of production, or the inability to reopen. People can lose their lives, homes, businesses and/or property and the social fabric that knits the community can be torn asunder. Resilience is the ability of a community to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.

Changes in climate and an increase in extreme events can alter coastal ecosystems and the services those ecosystems provide to support our coastal communities and economy. NCCOS’s research efforts seek to understand the ecosystem services that improve a community’s resistance to the impacts of weather and changing climate conditions. NCCOS provides timely and actionable scientific assessments, information, and tools that coastal communities use to make risk management decisions. The Coastal Change portfolio is comprised of four distinct sub-priorities (shown above).