From Interdisciplinary Program to Examine Potential Coastal Impacts of Climate Change, Natural Hazards by David Hosansky on NCAR & UCAR News, May 16, 2019

Assistant Professor Donovan Finn

Assistant Professor Donovan Finn

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is launching a significant new program this summer, naming nine early career faculty members from U.S. universities to conduct interdisciplinary research into the impacts of climate change and natural hazards on U.S. coasts.

The Early Career Faculty Innovator Program will partner NCAR scientists with faculty who have expertise in a broad range of disciplines outside NCAR’s core programs, from anthropology and geography to environmental design and civil engineering. Each faculty member will bring a graduate student to assist with research.

The program’s goal is to learn more about potential weather and climate threats and help build greater societal resilience. With storms, flooding, and other weather and climate disasters taking a more expensive toll on the world’s growing population, scientists are increasingly focused on understanding the far-reaching impacts of natural hazards on society.

“This further amplifies the benefit of NCAR research to society,” said NCAR Director Everette Joseph. “When we can connect our science on weather and climate with experts in social sciences, we’re leveraging knowledge in ways that can provide actionable information for decision-makers.”

The nine faculty members coming to NCAR in the summer will address such issues as the potential impacts of changing coastlines on minority populations and the elderly, improving forecasts of coastal flooding, better management of marine resources, and more effective communication of hurricane forecasts.

The National Science Foundation will fund the faculty members and graduate students for a two-year period. Faculty members will have summer sabbaticals at NCAR, while graduate students will get year-round funding.

“This program creates a space for convergence research, bringing together scientists across multiple disciplines to better understand the impacts of environmental change on society,” said Rebecca Haacker, director of NCAR Education and Outreach. “The participating faculty are researching important topics such as human security, health, and marine resource management.”

Haacker and NCAR scientist Cassandra O’Lenick are overseeing the program.


Among the university faculty in the Early Career Faculty Innovator Program’s 2019 cohort and their areas of research includes Donovan Finn, Assistant Professor of Environmental Design, Policy & Planning in the Sustainability Studies Program at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.  His project is titled “A user-driven framework for harnessing atmospheric research to inform planning and policy for coastal resilience.”  The abstract is below:

One of our most pressing societal questions is how to manage coastal human settlements as sea levels rise, coasts erode, and extreme weather events become more common. According to NOAA (2017), coastal counties in the US represent less than 10% of the nation’s land area but house 40% of the US population, comprise 30 to 40% of US GDP annually and contain significant numbers of residents from vulnerable socio-demographic groups. Moreover, coasts are growing in population and economic activity, while climate-related risks increase. These risks and their impacts on communities will force planners, engineers, politicians, business owners and residents – in short, everyone – to make increasingly difficult decisions about how to adapt to likely changes in the natural environment and mitigate harmful effects using strategies ranging from coastal retreat to more rigorous building codes to massive infrastructure projects. Making these kinds of critically important decisions will be more effective if they can be informed by actionable climate science and mechanisms for effective communication of regional climate information and its associated uncertainties to decision-makers. Using surveys, review of existing literatures, interviews with planners and other coastal decision-makers as well as close collaboration with NCAR scientists, this project will 1) assess the strengths and weaknesses of available climate-related data sources and decision-making tools used by, and not used by, local coastal stakeholders, 2) develop a better understanding of the barriers to utilizing cutting-edge climate science in local decision-making, and 3) create a framework for more useful and timely knowledge transfer between climate scientists and local planners, regulators and policy-makers.

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