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Regional Flood-Resilience Research Considers Communities and Infrastructure

Above: Florence’s storm surge swamped the riverside city of New Bern. Photo by Gray Whitley/Sun Journal.

Katie Mosher, NC Sea Grant,
Narcisa Pricope, UNCW,
Janine Iamunno, UNCW,; 910-338-7122

North Carolina coastal scientists and local officials are key partners for a Sea Grant research project in which experts from four South Atlantic states not only will quantify the impacts of flooding on access to infrastructure, but also will consider associated economic costs to coastal communities.

Narcisa Pricope from the University of North Carolina Wilmington is the lead N.C. researcher, working with partners in the City of New Bern in Craven County, as well as in New Hanover County. The study’s overall lead is Jason Evans of Stetson University in Florida, and the regional team also includes researchers and partners in Georgia and South Carolina.

With funding from the Sea Grant programs and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office for Coastal Management in the South Atlantic Region, the interdisciplinary research grant is named for the late Karl Havens, a champion of regional efforts who died 2019 while he was serving as director of Florida Sea Grant.

“We honor Karl through this research that supports community-based, collaborative projects in four states, each tackling local challenges that also provide potential solutions at a regional scale,” notes Susan White, executive director of North Carolina Sea Grant.

In the new project, Costs, Benefits, and Connectivity: Assessing Options for Flood Resilient Transportation Upgrades in Four Southeastern Coastal Communities, Pricope leads geospatial and remote-sensing modeling pertaining to the infrastructure vulnerability. The team also will include a UNCW graduate student working alongside partners that also include North Carolina Sea Grant, N.C. Department of Transportation, N.C. Division of Coastal Management, N.C. Division of Emergency Management, and the N.C. Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve.

“This project is especially interesting as it includes a broad range of data sources, and also brings together coastal communities, state agencies and our next generation of researchers to address real-world issues,” Pricope notes.

“Working with collaborators at the City of New Bern and New Hanover County, we will develop community-relevant green infrastructure interventions — like natural land conservation and restoration of coastal wetlands, oyster reefs and beach dunes — that may provide cost-effective flood-mitigation strategies within essential transportation networks throughout the coastal regions of our state,” she adds.

New Hanover County in particular notes flooding of the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington, as evidenced by the damage sustained from Hurricane Florence in 2018. “Recent flooding events in the last few years offer data that can inform research and help us build resiliency strategies so that locally and regionally we are better suited to sustain and respond to flooding events,” explains Eliza Baldwin, a strategy analyst for the county.

New Bern, which has the Neuse and Trent rivers, also had significant flooding during Hurricane Florence.

In addition to Pricope and Evans, project researchers include Chris de Bodisco of Stetson; Shana Jones, J. Scott Pippin, and Jon Calabria of the University of Georgia; Daniel Hitchcock, Clemson University; and Tara McCue and Luis Nieves-Ruiz of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council.

Additional partner communities include Cape Canaveral, Florida; Garden City, Georgia; New Bern, North Carolina; New Hanover County in North Carolina; and Georgetown County in South Carolina.

In all four states, the cities and counties will be working with the respective lead researcher to identify specific project sites for possible green infrastructure interventions. The local leaders also will help develop cost-benefit analysis models for providing a range of estimates for long-term values, including flood protection, habitat creation and preservation, contaminant mitigation and the integration of green spaces within a built environment.

Pricope’s applied research focuses on the intersection of land-systems science, watershed science and population geography. Her modeling contributions to this project, including photo data gathered by drones, will quantify and identify the roles of human decision-making and environmental changes related to flooding.

The new regional study builds upon her previous work to develop an assessment of coastal residential vulnerability to flooding. That study leveraged a unique high-resolution building inventory dataset —unique only to the state of North Carolina — providing finished-floor elevations of individual buildings.

In a related project funded by the UNCW Office of Community Engagement, she had extended her findings to evaluate 100-year base-flood elevations in Craven County, with validation from actual damage assessments conducted by the City of New Bern following Hurricane Florence.

Pricope also is a core-lead member of the Global Land Program Sustainable Land Systems Co-Production working group and has been actively leading global efforts to increase stakeholder involvement at the science-policy interface.


Updated April 21, 2020.