OSU to Engage with Communities, Students for Improving Coastal Resilience

It is likely common knowledge by this point that coastal communities in the Pacific Northwest are significantly threatened by a major earthquake from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a “megathrust” fault stretching over 600 miles along the Pacific shoreline from Cape Mendocino, California to Vancouver Island, Canada. On top of this, the Cascadia region also faces chronic risks such as flooding, coastal erosion, and sea level rise as a result of climate change — to the ever-widening detriment of its human and nonhuman inhabitants.   

To help strengthen the resilience of PNW coastal communities, which are at risk of becoming increasingly vulnerable to geological and mounting climate-related hazards, Oregon State University and the University of Washington have been selected by the National Science Foundation to lead a collaborative project known as the Cascadia Coastlines and Peoples Hazards Research Hub, or Cascadia CoPes Hub.   

The hub is part of the NSF’s Coastlines and People Program, which supports holistic research approaches to transforming understanding of, responses to, and mitigation of the unique hazards that populated coastal areas face — the end goal being to improve their resilience in the process.   

“There are many dimensions to resilience, including quality of life, economics, health, engineering and more,” said Peter Ruggiero, the project’s principal investigator and a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.   

While the project will involve partnerships with other major institutions and agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey, fostering collaborations with local, vulnerable communities to help shape the research will remain a top priority. According to Ruggerio, the project intentionally emphasizes incorporating Traditional Ecological Knowledge, or TEK, from the Cascadia region’s Indigenous Tribes; the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community are among the project’s various partners. In addition, the project seeks to incorporate the local knowledge of fishermen, farmers, and others who have had personal experiences with the region’s ecological challenges and are able to provide insights on what coastal resilience means to their communities.   

“I’ve been working on the issue of coastal hazards my entire career,” said Ruggio. “Over the last decade, it has become clear that the best way to make a difference is to work closely with communities, starting with involving them in research design. The National Science Foundation will bring significant resources to this effort, but we also will bring in voices that have not been heard before.”  

Hub researchers also plan on investing in the next generation of coastal hazards scientists and leaders, with an emphasis on reaching marginalized and historically excluded groups. Through the Cascadia Coastal Hazards and Resilience Training, Education and Research program — or CHARTER — education, training and hazards science research will become available for middle school, high school, undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students.   

According to Dwaine Plaza, co-principal investigator and professor of sociology at OSU, undergraduate students who participate in the CHARTER Fellows program will have the opportunity to use their research findings to inform, inspire and engage with middle and high school students.  

“This program provides a unique opportunity for students who identify as BIPOC; Latinx; LGBTQ; first-generation; and/or low-income, in all academic disciplines to participate in research,” said Plaza. “Fellows will be collecting meaningful data in Cascadia coastal communities and sharing their findings with middle and high school students in order to excite them about the possibilities of becoming coastal hazards scientists and leaders in the region.”   

The hub will focus on two broad areas of research: advancing understanding of the risks of Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquakes and other chronic and acute geological hazards to coastal regions; and reducing disaster risk through comprehensive assessment, mitigation and adaptation planning and policymaking.  

“Understanding not only who is vulnerable to coastal hazards, but how future adaptation and mitigation measures can impact different segments of the population, particularly underrepresented populations, is key to developing measures that are equitable and just,” said Jenna Tilt, an assistant professor in CEOAS and member of the project’s leadership team. “This research hub provides the resources to do just that.”  

By Emilie Ratcliff