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UNCW Professor Awarded $1.5M Grant To Research Future Of Coastal Communities

By Cece Nunn, posted Sep 21, 2017
Dylan McNamara, associate professor and chair of the UNCW Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, has been awarded a $1.5 million National Science Foundation Grant. (Photo courtesy of UNCW)

A UNCW professor has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate ways public policies will affect economic decisions and the coastal environment in the future, said an announcement Thursday.

Dylan McNamara, associate professor and chair of the UNCW Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, will lead an interdisciplinary team of researchers from seven universities, including economists, to address the interactions of natural forces, economic decisions and public policies, a news release said. The aim is to determine how the environment and patterns of human settlement react to rising seas and related coastline changes, according to the release. The NSF grant will fund the research for four years, and the project is already under way.

McNamara said in the release that the grant will allow the group "to work together as a coherent multidisciplinary team, which is fundamentally necessary to understand the human-occupied coastline system.” 

The results of the team’s research are expected to provide insight into how real estate markets respond to complex changes in environmental conditions, public policies, scientific knowledge and individual attitudes and values, the release said.

Explaining the nature of the study, McNamara said Thursday, "If we are going to attempt to answer questions about how the future is going to unfold along the coastline, it's critical to know all of the pieces and particularly some of the linked interactions between the economic and the physical stuff."

He used the example of the link between property values and nourishment efforts - the more nourishment, the higher the property values, and vice versa. 

"Once you have some insight into how the future's going to lay out, that insight is going to tell you not only how the coastline will look different physically, but also how the coastline will look different economically," McNamara said.

According to the announcement, researchers from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, the University of Georgia, The Ohio State University, East Carolina University and the University of Colorado will create and investigate computer-modeled coastal communities similar to those found along U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast barrier islands.

“We are heading into a critical phase where coastal communities will have to make important decisions about how they are going to adapt to the future,” McNamara said in the release. “We are hoping we can inform some of that policy. The stakes are high for communities along every coastline, as the recent storm tragedies highlight. Our goal is to understand the complex dynamics at play along human-occupied coastlines."

He said a goal is to proactively, rather than reactively, understand the dynamics that lead to disaster.

Ron Vetter, associate provost for research and dean of the Graduate School at UNCW, said in the release, “Human and natural environment interactions are very complex, highly interconnected, and directly affect how erosion and storms impact physical surroundings.”

McNamara was one of nine recipients of grants made this year by the National Science Foundation's Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program, according to an NSF news release. Total funding for 2017 CNH grants was $13 million.

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