Program gets NPS grant for sea-level rise study

Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines is recipient of a $239,000 grant from the National Park Service to assist the agency in identifying and protecting resources threatened by coastal erosion and future sea-level rise.

The one-year grant will enable Rob Young, director of PSDS, and other program personnel to assist the National Park Service in identifying all coastal infrastructure, historical artifacts and natural resources at risk to sea-level rise and storms along all of the nation’s coastal parks – from Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina to Channel Islands National Park, Calif.

Young will spend a year in the role of “climate change adaptation adviser” with the park service’s Climate Change Response Office. The project will culminate with the development of a long-term plan for deciding what NPS coastal resources can be saved, what should be abandoned, and how best to protect the critical ecosystems each park represents, Young said.

The National Park System includes 84 coastal park units with shorelines and submerged acreage, including national parks, seashores, lakeshores, recreation areas, monuments, preserves, historic sites and memorials.

“Coastal park features include the black sand beaches of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, cultural resources of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, immense sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and the largest subtropical wilderness in Everglades National Park,” said Rebecca Beavers, park service coastal geologist. “These areas encompass more than 11,000 miles of Great Lake and ocean shoreline and contain important American natural and cultural features.”

Those features are threatened both by current shoreline erosion and by future rising sea levels, said Young, co-author of the book “The Rising Sea.”

“Managers of our coastal parks will have some very difficult decisions to make as they balance the protection of infrastructure, cultural resources and natural resources in response to future sea-level rise,” he said. “It is quite an honor for Western Carolina University to be chosen to play a critical role in the process that will preserve these parks for the next generation of Americans.”

As a part of the project, National Park Service scientists and resource managers from across the United States will come to Western Carolina in January 2012 to participate in workshops hosted by PSDS.

The current effort marks the latest in a long series of partnerships between PSDS and the NPS, including a previous project to create a complete inventory of engineering projects in and around all U.S. coastal parks and national lakeshores.

The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines has received large park service grants to produce and publish a book on monitoring geologic change, conduct wetland restoration at Channel Islands in California and study wetlands within Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Young also is a partner with Olympic National Park on a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant for work on river restoration and environmental education along the Elwha River in the state of Washington, site of the largest dam removal project in U.S. history.

For more information about the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, visit