Sea level has been rising in the Chesapeake Bay region for thousands of years, since the end of the last Ice Age.
The difference today is that the rate of sea-level rise is accelerating, and millions of people and billion of dollars in property occupy the Bay’s shifting shoreline.
Now, a grant of $941,590 from the National Science Foundation to a multi-institutional team headed by researchers at William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) will fund a 4-year effort to identify how policymakers and coastal residents can best respond to rising seas in order to maximize human welfare and Bay health.
Dr. Carl Hershner, project lead and director of the Center for Coastal Resources Management at VIMS, said: “Our research will examine the potential for achieving sustainability in coastal systems where natural resources are impacted by both climate change and human responses to climate change.”
Dr. Donna Marie Bilkovic, a CCRM colleague and co-leader, added: “We’re talking about managing a resource that we know is under significant pressure and probably destined to decline dramatically in the next century. The question is can we in the interim do things in our management programs that will sustain at the highest possible level the ecosystem services that coastal resources provide.”
The research will proceed on two inter-related fronts: field studies and development of a suite of computer models that integrate and simulate the interplay between human decisions and the environment.
The field studies, led by Bilkovic and W&M biology professors Randy Chambers and Matthias Leu, are designed to fill gaps in scientists’ understanding of how marshes and living shorelines influence ecological processes; for example by trapping sediments, reducing wave action and potentially storing carbon.