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Increasing the capacity of Alaskan coastal communities to adapt and respond to storm driven coastal hazards


Christopher MaioCNSM Geoscience Department
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Jacquelyn OverbeckAlaska Department of Natural Resources
State of Alaska



The overarching goal of the research is to employ an innovative strategy to measure, map, and model storm-related coastal hazards to assess coastal and maritime risks while increasing coastal science literacy through the development and implementation of place-based educational materials and citizen-scientist training programs. This combined approach will lead to increased coastal hazard literacy and build on the concept of StormSmart coasts in the Bristol Bay region. To achieve this goal the proposed research will carry out three objectives:

1. Collect baseline oceanographic and terrestrial datasets that were not collected as a part of the community-based erosion monitoring, including observation systems for storm surge water levels and waves, additional UAV aerial imagery and elevation data, and coastal elevation profiles which will require continued engagement with citizen-scientist monitoring activities.
2. Apply geospatial analysis of remotely sensed datasets and hydro-morphodynamic modeling to map flood and erosion vulnerability to coastal storms with the purpose of assessing risks to coastal and maritime activities and infrastructure and providing meaningful data products for local hazard mitigation plans.
3. Work collaboratively with the ASG Education Specialist to build from existing curricula to design and implement standards-based high school educational materials to engage students in understanding STEM concepts while gaining skills in responding to storm and erosion hazards.


The issue

Today, storm-driven flooding and erosion pose some of the greatest threats to communities, natural resources, and marine activities along Alaska’s southwestern coastline, especially in relation to reductions in the extent and duration of sea ice cover. These environmental changes intensify the impacts of storm surge and alter nearshore bathymetry, increasing risk to maritime activities and infrastructure. The uncertainty associated with a shifting environment and its impact on coastal hazards hinders the resiliency of coastal communities and affects access to natural resources. Thus, there is a necessity for accurate baseline oceanographic and terrestrial data, localized hazard vulnerability mapping and assessments, nearshore ocean modeling, and improved coastal hazard literacy.

Why is this an Alaska Sea Grant project?

Alaska Sea Grant is dedicated to building resilient communities and economies through science extension that educates, engages and supports residents. This project embraces the Sea Grant mission by building from ongoing community based monitoring efforts at three communities in the Bristol Bay and Aleutian regions, including Dillingham, Naknek, and Nelson Lagoon. These communities have vibrant maritime economies, are key locations for the commercial fishing industry, and are at increasing risk to coastal hazards.

How will researchers conduct their study?

The proposed research plan includes the instrumentation of three sites with citizen-scientist supported pre- and post-storm surveys. In addition to leveraging existing geospatial data obtained through earlier Sea Grant funded research, an RTK-GPS system, autonomous mapping UAV, and hydrographic survey kit will be used to create baseline seamless (topo-bathy) elevation products which enable scenario-based return interval storm surge modeling (Delft3D FM and XBeach) to identify high risk locations. The data products will be designed for integration in each community’s FEMA required hazard mitigation plans.