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PSO partnership provides coastal hazards tools and outreach

The University of Georgia’s Marine Outreach Programs and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, two public service and outreach units of the University of Georgia, are partnering with Georgia coastal communities to help residents prepare for hazards such as sea level rise, hurricanes, flooding and storm surge.

Approaching these issues from multiple fronts, Marine Outreach and the Institute of Government are working together to provide public education, local government training, community planning assistance, educational exhibits and targeted group training.

Marine Outreach, working with the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, has created an exhibit on coastal hazards, funded by a Georgia Coastal Management Program Coastal Incentive Grant. The “Georgia’s Coastal Hazards” exhibit at the UGA Aquarium on Skidaway Island showcases the Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal, an online tool for better understanding coastal resources, the risks of flooding and hurricanes and the effects of rapid population growth and development. The exhibit features a wall mural with interpretive information, an interactive touch-screen computer containing educational information, photos and data and a flat-screen monitor to increase viewing capabilities.

To increase project impact, a traveling exhibit has also been designed to illustrate the types of coastal hazards in Georgia. It will serve as a mechanism to advertise the Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal in venues such as the Sapelo Island Visitor Center and 4-H Tidelands Nature Center.

The Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal itself is an online interactive map with layered local data on sea level rise, shoreline change, storm surge, Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zones, historical hurricane tracks, and land use and cover. The portal enables users to better understand the ramifications of coastal hazards. Marine Outreach experts are training diverse audiences to use the portal, including hundreds of emergency planners, military personnel, coastal scientists and officials from 11 coastal county governments and municipalities.

The portal incorporates a mapping tool called Analysis of Moving Boundaries Using R (AMBUR), which was created in 2010 to calculate change along complex shorelines. AMBUR has been used to map shoreline change on Georgia’s barrier islands, along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and for tidal streams. AMBUR is also being utilized regionally in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, as well internationally in India and Canada. It was recently used in Canada to assess the width of shallow intertidal areas in the Cornwallis River Estuary as one measure of protection against storms.

Another hands-on partnership utilizes students in UGA’s Integrative Conservation (ICON) Ph.D. program to assist with a sea level rise planning project the Institute of Government and Marine Outreach are conducting with Tybee Island government leaders.

ICON students visited Tybee Island four times during spring semester to learn first-hand the challenges of preparing for sea level rise on this Georgia barrier island. The students analyzed public engagement and increasing awareness of sea level rise planning on Tybee Island and gave presentations at a session at the Georgia Water Resource Conference that spotlighted the Tybee Island project.

Involving and exposing doctoral students to current coastal hazards projects and research helps them experience the practical challenges that communities face in implementing measures to increase their hazard resiliency. The ICON program brings together students from UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, the Odum School of Ecology, and the UGA anthropology and geography departments.

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