Coastal Communities Hazards Adaptation Specialist

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Jessica Whitehead is the coastal communities hazards adaptation specialist for North Carolina Sea Grant.

She assists coastal users with integrating information about coastal weather and climate hazards into their decision-making processes. Her work ranges from providing community groups with climate science data to working with scientists to develop decision-support tools for climate change risk and adaptation.

As a co-creator of the Vulnerability, Consequences and Adaptation Planning Scenarios (VCAPS) process, Whitehead has facilitated participatory diagramming exercises for stakeholders. So far, these activities have helped 17 Gulf and Atlantic coast communities understand weather and climate hazards, their communities’ vulnerabilities to these hazards, and adaptation options that could increase community resilience.

Whitehead’s current projects include helping Hyde County develop a flood resiliency plan, and assisting the Town of Nags Head begin planning efforts to make public infrastructure and resources more resilient to sea-level rise over the next 10 to 30 years.

In September 2015, Whitehead began a new project to help water managers in Charleston, S.C., and the Morehead City, N.C., region explore the public health risks of storms and near-term sea-level rise. This project is led by South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, and includes partners from East Carolina University, and the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments (CISA) program at the University of South Carolina.

Prior to joining North Carolina Sea Grant, Whitehead was the regional climate extension specialist for the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, North Carolina Sea Grant and CISA.

Whitehead holds a doctorate in geography and a Master of Science degree in meteorology from the Pennsylvania State University. Her doctoral dissertation focused on building scenarios to determine the capacities of small drinking-water utilities to adapt to climate change. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the College of Charleston.

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