WCU program receives grant to study impact of rising sea-levels

Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines has received a $239,000 grant from the National Park Service to assist the agency in identifying and protecting resources threatened by coastal erosion and future sea-level rise.

The one-year grant will enable Rob Young, director of the program, and other program personnel to help the park identify all coastal infrastructure, historical artifacts and natural resources at risk to sea-level rise and storms along all of the nation’s coastal parks — from Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina to Channel Islands National Park, Calif.  

Young will spend a year in the role of “climate change adaptation adviser” with the park’s Climate Change Response Office. The project will culminate with the development of a long-term plan for deciding what coastal resources can be saved, what should be abandoned, and how best to protect the critical ecosystems each park represents, Young said.

The National Park System includes 84 coastal park units with shorelines and submerged acreage, including national parks, seashores, lakeshores, recreation areas, monuments, preserves, historic sites and memorials

“Coastal park features include the black sand beaches of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, cultural resources of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, immense sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and the largest subtropical wilderness in Everglades National Park,” said Rebecca Beavers, park service coastal geologist. “These areas encompass more than 11,000 miles of Great Lake and ocean shoreline and contain important American natural and cultural features.”

Those features are threatened both by current shoreline erosion and by future rising sea levels, said Young, co-author of the book “The Rising Sea.”

“Managers of our coastal parks will have some very difficult decisions to make as they balance the protection of infrastructure, cultural resources and natural resources in response to future sea-level rise,” he said. “It is quite an honor for Western Carolina University to be chosen to play a critical role in the process that will preserve these parks for the next generation of Americans.”

As a part of the project, National Park Service scientists and resource managers from across the United States will come to Western Carolina in January 2012 to participate in workshops.

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