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Science in Support of Adaptation Planning for Climate Variability and Coastal Hazard Vulnerability in the Chesapeake Bay

This project began in June 2014 and was completed in February 2017.

The Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, provides people with valuable ecosystem services. Impacts from climate change, including sea level rise and changes in precipitation, can threaten these services. We developed a framework to inform decision making for coastal flooding adaptation action through the development of community-level indicators and an assessment of vulnerability and risk to improve communities’ resilience to climate and coastal hazard impacts.

Why We Care
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, with a total of 11,684 miles of shoreline along the bay and its tributaries. For over a century, the bay and its watershed have provided people with valuable ecosystem services. The history, culture, and economy of communities in this region are deeply intertwined with the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. Climate and coastal hazard impacts could threaten the fishing, tourism, property, and shipping industries of the Chesapeake Bay, which generate $60 billion annually. Understanding the vulnerabilities of communities along the bay to climate and coastal hazard impacts—like sea level rise, coastal erosion, and increased frequency of severe storms—requires an integrated approach. The tools and information we generated through this project will improve community resilience to a changing climate as well as other coastal hazards.

What We Did
First, we evaluated the vulnerability of the Town of Oxford and Talbot County, Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay region to the localized impacts of climate variability and other coastal hazards. To accomplish this, we first developed a set of appropriate indicators, then gathered and analyzed existing social, structural, and ecological data in conjunction with selected flood risks to characterize the selected community. The vulnerability indicators spanned the following areas:
• Social/Economic – e.g., population demographics, economic characteristics
• Structural – e.g., building characteristics
• Ecological – e.g., natural resource distribution and richness

The development of our vulnerability indicators used data from the U.S. Census BureauMaryland Department of PlanningNOAA’s Coastal Change Analysis Program, and Virginia Institute of Marine Science, among others. Tools used for our flood risk analysis included NOAA’s Digital Coast Sea Level Rise ViewerNOAA’s SLOSH Model, and NOAA/NCCOS’s SWARM modelling. Also used in the second iteration of this project (see below) were The Nature Conservancy’s Chesapeake Bay Habitat Tool  and State of Delaware. After analysis, we compiled the findings into information products for the community.

We assisted in the facilitation of stakeholder engagement to ensure that vulnerability and risk were appropriately identified and translated in a way that serves as a foundation for the community to address risk and identify adaptation strategies moving forward. The data provided, together with the stakeholder process, is aiding the community in risk reduction by fostering the identification of adaptation and restoration strategies, which will then inform coastal flood adaptation decision making. Ultimately, the community is better prepared for response, recovery, and resilience to climate and coastal hazard impacts.

Though the initial data collection and development of the Integrated Vulnerability Assessment Framework focused on a single community of the Chesapeake Bay, the project team then applied the Framework to a larger region within the Chesapeake Bay: the Choptank Habitat Focus Area. This work was conducted at the watershed level (spanning five counties in Maryland and Delaware), was completed at a different unit of analysis, and incorporated a natural resource valuation analysis.

Between both applications of the Framework, the project team included partners from NOAA/NCCOS, NOAA/NMFS, NOAA/OCM, NOAA Habitat Blueprint, the Maryland CoastSmart Program, Maryland SeaGrant, the Town of Oxford, MD, and Talbot County, MD.

Benefits of the Project
Development and application of the Integrated Vulnerability Assessment Framework provided a much-needed assimilation of social and natural resource vulnerability planning. The methodological approach is intended for application across a wide range of coastal communities, and this flexibility provides the foundation to support additional coastal communities in different states and regions with the science needed for coastal flooding adaptation planning. Additionally, the Framework is designed to be easily adaptable to other adaptation planning activities, outside of coastal flooding.

Additional Resources

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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