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Informing coastal management adaptation planning and decision making for climate change using an interactive risk-based vulnerability assessment tool

Informing coastal management adaptation planning and decision making for climate
change using an interactive risk-based vulnerability assessment tool.

Impacts to coastal areas due to hazards associated with climate change are many: sea level rise, shoreline erosion, hurricanes, and associated tidal surges and flooding. The effects of such changes are exacerbated by human development, which changes land cover and degrades water quality and quantity. Planning for climate change in the context of such diverse stresses poses a significant challenge for coastal managers and communities. They must understand how stresses interact to produce impacts. They must also understand how impacts are related to differences in vulnerability, and how vulnerabilities and impacts can be mitigated via short-term adjustments and longer-term adaptations. In some cases city/town planners can enact changes, but there are some adaptations that must be accomplished by private individuals or organizations. Coastal systems are particularly complex, making it even more difficult for decision-makers to examine the time lags, feedbacks, and nonlinearities affecting climate change impacts. The challenge is exacerbated because planners are confronted with many uncertainties.

Successful adaptation and mitigation of hazard impacts in coastal regions requires the
generation of realistic risk and adaptation scenarios and models in processes that pay
close attention to producing knowledge that informs decision-making and produces
community acceptance. Local decision makers can benefit from a conceptual
characterization of hazards that enables them to examine threats, consequences, and
management interventions as a causal sequence resulting from a stream of choices and
activities. This is best accomplished in a process that involves integrating locally specific
knowledge about social stressors with generalized scientific information about potential
hazard impacts. We are responding to the recent finding by Tribbia and Moser that:
“…what is surprising is that [managers] do not have, do not know of, or do not find
vulnerability assessment tools currently availably sufficient, and maybe that scientists
have not made them more accessible or user-friendly to practitioners.”

We intend to use a recently developed tool to inform scenario-building and planning for
coastal management. This tool enables users to construct and display causal pathways
that link hazard events, exposures, and consequences with the ways that consequences are
mediated by vulnerability. It allows users to focus on elements or pathways of interest
while retaining the greater system complexity and to easily elaborate information on
pathways. The tool can also promote deliberative-analytical dialogue and we intend to
build a collaborative network of local coastal decision makers by having them learn to
use the model in applied settings. Our goal is to examine the planning and decisionmaking support this tool can offer local decision makers in coastal management
planning. We will work with coastal managers and community members to evaluate how
the tool can structure the gathering and analysis of decision-relevant information, inform
adaptive action and resilience strategies, and highlight critical data gaps to inform future
monitoring and research activities.

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