Social Science for Climate Change
Susan Moser

Adaptation in the Coastal Sector

wavesSea-level rise and associated coastal hazards like flooding and erosion are already problems for communities, states, and nations today — and these problems will become more acute in the future. Common response options include shoreline protection (e.g., beach nourishment, wetland restoration, or hardening of the shoreline), changes in design, planning, and development along the coast, and retreating from the encroaching sea. But in order to respond successfully, coastal managers and policy-makers often need better information and innovative ways of problem-solving.

California Coastal Managers’ Preparedness for Climate Change

townMuch of my work focuses on systematically assessing coastal managers’ preparedness and efforts in planning for the impacts from climate change and sea-level rise. In California, I conducted interviews and a state-wide survey of state, regional and local coastal managers to assess their attitudes about global warming and the actions taken to prepare for and adapt to coastal impacts from climate change. The study also examined what kind of scientific information and other assistance managers need in order to work on adaptation. The results of this study significantly informed the thinking at the state’s Coastal Commission and Bay Conservation and Development Commission, as well as the state’s subsequent adaptation planning efforts and decision support activities. I continue to engage in this area by helping to train coastal managers in relevant skills for effective adaptation planning and implementation.

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Coastal Vulnerability and Policy Assessments



Vulnerability studies take into account not just the exposure to physical hazards like storms, erosion or sea-level rise, but also local demographics and socio-economic conditions. In this studies, my colleagues and I developed a GIS-based methodology to integrate physical and social components of vulnerability to coastal storms and sea-level rise in the coastal city of Revere, MA.

For a separate, Congressionally mandated study on the impacts of coastal erosion on the National Flood Insurance Program, I reviewed the history of erosion management in the US and conducted field research to analyze relevant coastal management practices in five communities around the country. This study, “Evaluation of Erosion Hazards,” for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was lead by the Heinz Center in Washington, DC, and the report, brief summaries, and the community study appendix are available here.

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For related work, see: