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Rutgers to Lead 'Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub'

Supported by nearly $20 million from the National Science Foundation, the new hub will help improve the understanding and governance of co-evolving hazard developments and coastal processes

MARISOL SEDA / RUTGERS RESEARCH NEWS – Advancing its mission and leadership role to improve climate risk management critical to societal well-being, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey will lead a multi-university Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) made possible by a grant through the National Science Foundation’s Coastlines and People (CoPe) Program with expected total funding of $19.9+ million over the next five years.

Robert Kopp, Rutgers UniversityThe MACH team, led by Rutgers climate scientist and Principal Investigator Robert Kopp, includes climate and sea level scientists, civil engineers, urban planners, economists, emergency management specialists, environmental anthropologists and decision analysis experts, social scientists, and humanists, among others. Co-Principal Investigators Victoria Ramenzoni from Rutgers, Klaus Keller from Penn State University, Carolyn Kousky from University of Pennsylvania, and Ning Lin from Princeton University are among the senior personnel. Co-investigators from Columbia University, University at Albany, Tulane University, Clark University, Montclair State University, the University of Central Florida, and Carleton College will also join the team.

“As extreme weather events continue to highlight our region’s and world’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change, Rutgers has taken a leadership role in addressing the climate crisis through research, scholarly activities, and meaningful action locally and globally,” said Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway. “In addition to developing a plan for our own university to reduce our carbon footprint, our experts are leading collaborations such as this one to create mutual understanding within our diverse communities, gather insights to guide decisions, and develop adaptation plans that could benefit coastal megalopolises in our region and beyond. It is a proud moment for Rutgers and for our partners to collectively impact change for future generations.”

“Dr. Keller’s research and the CoPe Megapolitan Coastal Transformation Hub demonstrate Penn State’s commitment to finding equitable solutions to climate change that serve all communities, especially the historically underserved communities most susceptible to the effects of climate change,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “I’m proud to see Penn State’s researchers and scientists at the forefront of this critically important field. Congratulations to the team as they begin their collaboration.”

The project will be initially funded by the NSF with $7.9 million for the first two years, with the remaining funds to be awarded following annual progress reports on the research and results.

The NSF funded four additional hubs in the nation with over $20 million in grants to conduct critically important coastlines and people research that is integrated with broadening participation goals and that aims to transform understanding of interactions among natural, human-built, and social systems in coastal, populated environments.

“These projects are unique, community-built and embody the CoPe goals of broadening participation in science and fostering societally relevant coastal research,” says NSF CoPe program director Amanda Adams. “The awards address coastal hazards from the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf of Mexico to the mid-Atlantic and engage communities from the densely populated Eastern Seaboard to tribal and rural coastal communities.”

“We have to understand the dynamics of how humans and the coastline interact in such complex, urbanized regions so that we can thrive despite rising sea levels and intensifying heat and rainfall.”
Robert Kopp

Director, Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Rutgers University

The MACH project will conduct research that supports the development of climate-resilient decision-making frameworks to equitably support coastal communities. In addition to facilitating interdisciplinary science, MACH will link researchers with coastal stakeholders and decision-makers to facilitate the co-development of dynamic adaptation policy pathways for equitably navigating a deeply uncertain future.

“We are dealing with complex and rapidly changing coastal environments and hazards. Rutgers and most of the team working on this project sit within the dense urban mega-region that stretches from New York City, through New Jersey, to Philadelphia. We have to understand the dynamics of how humans and the coastline interact in such complex, urbanized regions so that we can thrive despite rising sea levels and intensifying heat and rainfall, and take advantage of new opportunities like offshore wind,” said Kopp, who is also director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences and professor in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences. “The lessons we learn here should have application to urban megalopolises around the world.”

According to Kopp, MACH will partner with communities in the region, using real-world decision problems to shape its research activities. The project will investigate the hazards the region faces, as well as the way people understand and respond to these hazards. It will also investigate the behavior of the housing markets, mortgages, and insurance companies, and the effects on municipal budgets.

“We need to think about how we are going to flexibly manage the transformation of the coast, building relationships that link scientists and communities to manage risks dynamically, collaboratively and in constant dialog,” added Kopp.

The MACH team will address three main research questions:

  1. How can an improved scientific understanding of the integrated natural-human-decision system inform coastal climate risk management and the design of mission-oriented basic research?
  2. How do the dynamics of coastal natural-human systems drive hazards and risks?
  3. How do dynamic interactions among decisions affecting the coastal system at different scales and time horizons influence exposures, vulnerabilities, and risks?

Rutgers MACH research will engage students from Rutgers and community colleges, junior faculty, and faculty through research symposia while training and providing the necessary concepts, tools and skills to a new generation of leaders to advance managing climate risks. Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts will also develop a documentary of the whole five-year process.

Co-Principal Investigators and other experts from Rutgers University–New Brunswick include:

Victoria Ramenzoni –School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (Co-PI)

Clinton Andrews – Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy

Lisa Auermuller – New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station

Anthony Broccoli – School of Environmental and Biological Sciences

Carrie Ferraro – Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

Gregory Garner – School of Arts and Sciences

Jie Gong – School of Engineering

Jeanne Herb – Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy

Shantenu Jha – School of Engineering

Marjorie Kaplan – Rutgers Climate Institute

Tom Lennon – Mason Gross School of the Arts

“This important project builds on and expands Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s leadership in climate science and our commitment to address one of the most pressing crises facing the human race,” said Rutgers University–New Brunswick Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway. “This effort requires the full focus of our prowess in academic excellence, world-changing research, and impactful public service.”

“The recent impacts of Hurricane Ida served as a stark reminder that all of us are vulnerable to the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Partnerships such as the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub will play an important role in protecting the safety and resiliency for some of our most weather vulnerable communities,” said Robert Griffin, dean of the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at the University at Albany. “Dr. DeeDee Bennett is a leading emergency management expert who focuses on vulnerable populations during natural disasters. We’re proud of her contributions to MACH and the impacts this research will have on hazard planning for coastal megalopolises around the globe.”

“We have made great progress over the last few years in better understanding how individual hazards could change in a warming climate, such sea level rise, storm surges, or heat waves,” said Thomas Wahl, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering at the University of Central Florida. “Through the MACH hub we will be able to go beyond that and consider the important connections between the different hazards and how they can compound each other, as well as develop suitable and equitable adaptation pathways to protect coastal communities from these events.”

Meet the Climate Corps

Angel Alguera, Rutgers Climate CorpsAngel Alguera
I am a first-year Atmospheric Science master’s degree student in the Department of Environmental Sciences, and my work focuses on meteorology and applications of climate change resiliency. My professional interests include severe weather forecasting and community preparedness regarding weather-related disasters. I work with Dr. James Shope at the NJ Climate Change Resource Center to produce applied research and reports relevant to New Jersey stakeholders. I currently assist with climate change data analysis, large dataset management, and report writing.

Daniel GilkesonDaniel Gilkeson
I’m a second-year master’s student in the City and Regional Planning Program with a concentration in environmental planning. As a planner, I hope to build more resilient communities in the face of increased risk due to climate change. With the Climate Change Resource Center, I am working on a project to aid the state in an update of its floodplain buyout program, known as Blue Acres, to be more proactive and comprehensive. Prior to this position, I interned in the Community and Economic Development Office at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Association. I’m also an AmeriCorps alum, having completed a year of service working on affordable housing in Nashville, Tennessee.

Benjamin GoldbergBenjamin Goldberg
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in climate adaptation and resiliency planning, with experience in sustainable food systems. I joined the Climate Corps last summer to help develop a GIS-based food waste recovery tool, and currently support community resilience through flood vulnerability analysis. I hold a B.A. from Middlebury College and a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture from UC Santa Cruz.

Surya Jacob, Rutgers Climate CorpsSurya Jacob
I am a graduate student in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School concentrating in community development, focused on housing, land and finance, as well as pursuing the Real Estate Development/Redevelopment Certification. Prior to Bloustein, I worked as an architect and interior designer in India and Canada and am pivoting towards a career in urban planning to engage in extensive projects at the macro level. My interests include affordable and mixed income housing, urban redevelopment, and housing finance, and I am deeply passionate about climate resilience in community planning. Being part of Climate Corps is a foundational step towards helping to solve equity issues in vulnerable communities along the coastal region.

Vineesh Das Kodakkandathil, RutgersVineesh Das Kodakkandathil
I am an urban planner with five years of professional experience in community-led ecotourism development and land use and environment management planning in ecologically sensitive areas. I have worked on and conducted extensive environmental sensitivity analyses, flood and landslide vulnerability assessments, and human impact assessments with the help of GIS tools. I’m currently pursuing my master’s in City and Regional Planning at Bloustein School with a concentration in Transport Planning and GIS.

Douglas LeungDouglas Leung
I am working with the Climate Change Resource Center to identify vulnerable communities and places affected by climate-induced flooding in coastal New Jersey municipalities. I am a Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. As a planner, I want to develop strategies and solve problems affecting our cities and communities that enable more equitable outcomes in housing and transportation. I am also a recent Army veteran, having served as a company commander of recruiting in the northern suburbs of Chicago and as a reconnaissance platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division. For fun, I enjoy weightlifting, running, reading fiction, and board games.

Nihar MhatreNihar Mhatre
I am a master’s candidate in city and regional planning at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, focusing on urban design and land use planning. Before being accepted at Rutgers, I worked as an architect at JD Studio and had my own architectural practice, Vastu Insights. My research interests revolve around designing and developing climate change adaptation and resilience strategies to promote equity in urban landscapes. Having the opportunity to work on real-world projects through Climate Corps will be an essential step in the development of my understanding of addressing climate change issues in vulnerable regions.

Justin MorrisJustin Morris
Justin is a master’s student at Rutgers University studying discovery informatics and data sciences. He is working under Professor Mark Rodgers to develop an optimization model that will act as a decision support tool for university financial investments with the end goal of eliminating Rutgers’ scope 2 emissions. He is excited to apply his background in data analytics and mathematical programming to help the university fight climate change.

Josephine O'GradyJosephine O’Grady
I am a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. Through the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience (C2R2) certification, I am focusing a significant portion of my graduate coursework on topics including coastal geomorphology, environmental justice, and hazard mitigation planning. Before beginning my studies at the Bloustein School, I received my bachelor’s degree in public health from Kean University, where I first became interested in how coastal dynamics shape lived experiences. I previously served as an intern at the New Jersey State Policy Lab and currently work for the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

Jessica Parineet Jessica Parineet
I am a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the Bloustein School with a strong interest in climate change policy and related topics. In my previous work, I gained experience in a number of dimensions of climate change issues through carbon capture storage research, urban heat island research, and community level engagement as I am currently on the Student Advisory Board for the Rutgers Office of Climate Action. I am excited to expand on my interests in environmental justice and local level resilience planning through my involvement in the Climate Corps.

Dillon Patel Dillan Patel
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in Environmental Planning and International Development. I have previously worked as an economist performing cost-benefit analysis and conducting monitoring and evaluation for renewable energy in developing countries. I have also spent a summer in western Massachusetts mapping stormwater infrastructure and working with planners to identify suitable places for green stormwater infrastructure.

Moira Sweeder, Rutgers Climate CorpsMoira Sweeder
I am a graduate student enrolled in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School. My concentration is environmental planning with a focus on coastal resilience. Before pursuing my master’s degree at Rutgers, I studied sustainability at Stockton University. During this time, I interned for the PSEG Institute of Sustainability Studies, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve, and NJ Audubon. I am thrilled to now be a part of the Climate Corps, researching coastal resilience as a part of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

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