Researchers awarded $1.5 million grant to investigate the future of coastal communities

Andy Keeler, professor of economics at East Carolina University and program head for public policy and coastal sustainability at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute, is part of an interdisciplinary team of researchers investigating how public policies affect both economic decisions and the coastal environment.
Keeler is one of the researchers funded by a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant awarded to Dylan McNamara, associate professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography at UNC Wilmington.
McNamara will lead a group — from geomorphologists to economists — from seven universities to address the interactions of natural forces, economic decisions and public policies to determine how the environment and patterns of human settlement react to rising seas and related coastline changes. The NSF grant will fund the research for four years. The project is underway.
“Our team is excited to receive this grant as these resources will allow us to work together as a coherent multidisciplinary team, which is fundamentally necessary to understand the human-occupied coastline system,” said McNamara.
Researchers from UNCW, Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Georgia, The Ohio State University, East Carolina University and the University of Colorado will create and investigate computer modeled coastal communities similar to those found along U.S. East and Gulf Coast barrier islands.
“We are heading into a critical phase where coastal communities will have to make important decisions about how they are going to adapt to the future,” McNamara said. “We are hoping we can inform some of that policy. The stakes are high for communities along every coastline as the recent storm tragedies highlight. Our goal is to understand the complex dynamics at play along human-occupied coastlines. So rather than reactively dealing with a disaster event, we aim to proactively understand the dynamics that so often lead to disaster.”
Keeler said one of the goals of the project is to better understand the factors at play in defending the coastline versus retreating from it.
“What we’re trying to do is use these example communities and some sophisticated modeling systems to see how different policies and outcomes affect that tipping point,” he said. “My particular interest is in the way we model infrastructure and public policy, and how they influence people’s choices.”
The results of the team’s research will provide insight into how real estate markets respond to complex changes in environmental conditions, public policies, scientific knowledge, and individual attitudes and values.
Contact: John McCord,