Stetson University researcher addresses growing threat to coastal communities

Girding for higher sea levels — Dr. Jason Evans, assistant professor of environmental science at Stetson University, is finding innovative ways for coastal communities to adapt to rising sea levels.

Girding for higher sea levels — Dr. Jason Evans, assistant professor of environmental science at Stetson University, is finding innovative ways for coastal communities to adapt to rising sea levels.

PHOTO COURTESY STETSON UNIVERSITY

Increased flooding caused by rising sea levels is a growing threat to coastal communities in the United States. In response, Jason M. Evans, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, is working with Sea Grant programs and several communities in the Southeast to discover ways to adapt to rising sea levels.

Evans’ research focuses on discovering vulnerabilities of public facilities such as stormwater drainage systems, fire stations and wastewater-treatment plants, and finding ways to help communities adapt to a rise in sea levels and become more resilient to coastal hazards. His research is in collaboration with Sea Grant programs in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

Last week in St. Petersburg, Evans took part in a Florida Sea Grant workshop focusing on the legal and policy challenges confronted by local governments as they face increased flooding and rising sea levels.

This week, Evans discussed the City of Satellite Beach Community Resilience Campaign, a program that builds on past research to measure, map and assess areas of vulnerability to a rise in sea levels.

Also this week, Evans and other researchers in the St. Marys Flood Resiliency Project presented their findings from a three-year study to the mayor and city council of St. Marys, Georgia.

A collaboration among St. Marys, Georgia Sea Grant, Stetson University and North Carolina Sea Grant, the project began with an innovative structural modeling approach. Results from the modeling were then used to create a series of assessments that analyzed current and future flood risks to property and infrastructure under different sea-level-rise scenarios.

The modeling and assessments showed the high vulnerability to coastal flooding of historic downtown St. Marys, on the banks of the St. Marys River estuary. While the most serious flood risks in the city are hurricane-related storm surges, there are increasing concerns about more chronic flood events associated with intense rainstorms that occur at or near high tide, according to Evans.

Detailed analysis indicates that a major source of flood vulnerability is the configuration of the stormwater drainage system, which was built decades ago without any knowledge of long-term rises in sea level. This vulnerability is expected to worsen as a direct function of sea-level rise unless the local stormwater infrastructure system is upgraded.

Although there are substantial challenges, much of St. Marys’ flood vulnerability likely can be managed with appropriate planning and investments over the next several decades, Evans said.

“We believe that the final report provides a base amount of information and data that will assist the continuing efforts of city officials to reduce flood risks for the benefit of current and future residents, while at the same time maintaining the unique historic character that has long made St. Marys one of the crown jewels of the Georgia coast,” he said.

- Heather Hunter

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