Problems along our coasts and back-bays from weather extremes and rising tides are growing at a faster rate than are the resources to plan and prevent damage. That is the conclusion from a day-long conference held by the Water Center at Penn with our colleagues from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE) and the Coastal States Organization (CSO).

Regional experts in coastal management met at the University of Pennsylvania to discuss the post-Sandy state of the Mid-Atlantic coasts and back-bays.  Joining the conversation were UPenn Faculty, PhD students and other experts looking to align their academic research agendas to the needs of practitioners.

While there is significant federal funding available through programs offered through FEMA and The Water Resource and Development Act (WRDA), there is not nearly enough money to prevent future catastrophes, much less to fully understand the approaches we should be taking.

New ideas, leadership, and technologies are needed to prevent tidal flooding and manage erosion if we are to save our shore towns, our coastal cities, and our marine and coastal ecology.

While we work to protect, fortify, and replenish (with sand) our beaches (‘front door’ to the Atlantic) and back bays (‘back door’), they still remain wide open and extremely vulnerable. Our area creeks, rivers, and wetlands (‘windows’) are likewise under attack from riverbank overflows and nuisance flooding caused by land subsidence and sea level rise.

Along the entire Atlantic coastline, there is a critical need for additional funding for planning, research, structural fixes, and land management changes.

How do we fund the solutions?  How do we ensure the solutions are comprehensive and that there is funding for system maintenance?  What do we do after the next disaster?  How do we “use” the next crisis to capture new solutions?

Even the $$ billions of Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Funding were not enough to prevent the next surge coming up the back bays. We are not talking centuries, or even decades from now.  New policies and technologies are needed now.  But we are not funded to investigate the solutions, much less actually construct anything.

We need to look at political solutions that involve changing existing land uses and the construction of storm-surge barriers and other structural and nature-based solutions.

At Penn, we have significant research activities investigating many aspects of these issues:

Dr. Irina Marinov Assistant Professor; Long Term Guest Investigator, Woods Hole Oceanograpgic Institute

Dr. Irina Marinov’s research investigates the ocean’s role in managing unprecedented amounts of anthropogenic carbon produced at a rate our planted has not experienced for thousands of years. With particular interest in the Southern Ocean, accounting for more than half of modern oceanic CO2 uptake (40%), Dr. Marinov’s research is most effective by being cross-disciplinary, tackling climate dynamics, physical oceanography, biogeochemistry and ecosystems dynamics

Dr. Gina Tonn Postdoctoral Research Fellow; Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center

Dr. Gina Tonn’s research lies at the convergence of risk management and science. Specifically, her interests include risk analysis and management for natural hazards, aging infrastructure, water resources, and climate change adaptation. Dr. Tonn’s research incorporates the application of systems analysis methods with water resources and environmental engineering methods to optimize the understanding of associated risks of natural hazards in a climatically changing world. Dr. Tonn’s research is currently being applied in identifying structural fixes via barriers for vulnerable cities.

Ellen Neises  Adjunct Associate Professor; Executive Director, PennPraxis

Ellen Neises’s research incudes large-scale design and policy issues addressing land, water, and development. Neises was one of six winners of the 2014 Rebuild by Design international competition to develop solutions to rebuild cities and towns negatively impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Neises’s work empowers the promise of design in preventative solutions to ensure the resiliency of cities.

Matthijs Bouw Lecturer and Rockerfeller Urban Resilience Fellow

Founder of One Architecture

Matthijis Bouw’s interdisciplinary work at Penn addresses programmatic, financial, technical, and organizational issues to be resolved through design. Bouw transforms the concept of ‘resiliency’ into a measurable outcome for complex implementation projects. Bouw is a co-lead for the BIG Team, winning the Rebuild Design competition for the flood protection of Manhattan.

The University will continue to work with our friends at the ACE, EPA, CSO, and elsewhere to further our research towards finding implementable solutions.