19th Symposium on Education
12th Conference on Atmospheric Chemistry
18th Conference on Applied Climatology
24th Conference on Hydrology


Climate adaptation in coastal communities: A Sea Grant Climate Network approach to outreach

Jessica C. Whitehead, South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, Charleston, SC; and C. Conger, R. H. Bacon, and J. Brown

Until recently, many climate outreach initiatives have been based on the information deficit concept, the idea that increasing decision-makers' knowledge of climate science gives them sufficient motivation to take action on mitigation and adaptation strategies. Numerous studies have found that information deficit-based approaches are failing to convince decision-makers to incorporate climate change issues in their current and future actions. Some decision-making groups are beginning to design climate adaptation strategies, but these efforts are still sparse and highly variable in scope. Broadening the nation's preparation for climate change across all scales and sectors requires new climate communication tactics, especially for promoting adaptation in coastal areas. Ultimately, many decisions are based on a combination of social, political, economic, and technical factors, each of which is given different weighting based on the conditions. Consequently, climate adaptation efforts must focus on convincing decision-makers that climate impacts are both significant and relevant to their decision-making responsibility, that adaptation measures can be mainstreamed into existing planning processes, and that climate information currently available can be used to develop effective and flexible adaptation strategies.

The purpose of this presentation is to outline grassroots efforts undertaken by National Sea Grant College program extension, education, and communications professionals that increase our capabilities to provide climate services in the form of outreach (encompassing extension, education, and communications efforts) to our coastal users nationwide. Sea Grant is NOAA's university-based program for supporting research and outreach on coastal resource use and conservation. Currently, over 80% of Sea Grant's 32 programs have developed climate outreach projects, and over 60% of programs increased their climate outreach programming in the last two years. Through effective climate extension and outreach, Sea Grant professionals will be able to assist coastal users with evaluating adaptation and mainstreaming adaptation strategies into current planning processes. Efforts include establishing the Sea Grant Climate Network (SGCN), a grassroots informal organization of Sea Grant outreach professionals. The SGCN mission is to increase the effectiveness of Sea Grant climate programming and outreach nationwide by coordinating Sea Grant climate-related activities, sharing talent and resources, and working with climate agencies and organizations within NOAA and the communities we serve. Currently, the SGCN is furthering this goal by increasing outreach professionals' coordination through an electronic social network and by conducting a national experiential workshop on climate adaptation assessment.

After more than 40 years, Sea Grant professionals have a reputation as trusted, honest brokers of scientific information, which places our outreach professionals in an excellent position to assist coastal decision-makers with climate change adaptation. To effectively engage coastal residents with climate issues and help them incorporate that information into existing decision-making processes, current and future SGCN members need training to better understand the current NOAA climate research, and as importantly, they need the skills required to translate climate data and products into real world assistance. To help Sea Grant outreach professionals hone these skills, the SGCN obtained funding through NOAA and the National Sea Grant Office to organize its first workshop, “Climate Adaptation in Coastal Communities: A Network Approach to Outreach.” This workshop, to be held November 9-11, 2009, in Charleston, South Carolina, has two objectives. First, it will strengthen Sea Grant capacity to plan, deliver, and evaluate climate outreach programs tailored to the needs of their own communities. Second, the experiential component of the workshop will allow SGCN members from all over the United States to collaborate with four community decision-making partners to use tools and techniques learned to design and implement low-cost local scale projects that build stakeholders' awareness of climate change impacts, leading to action in climate change adaptation.

We summarize the results of the SGCN “Climate Adaptation in Coastal Communities: A Network Approach to Outreach” workshop, focusing on two key outputs. First, we will describe the process of designing a workshop around creating four new climate outreach programs in collaboration with community decision-makers. This discussion will include the decision-makers feedback on whether the vulnerability and adaptation tools presented by academic researchers, NOAA personnel, and Sea Grant professionals meet their needs and are practical for use on the ground. It will also include an update on the progress of the four community adaptation programs two months after the conclusion of the workshop. Second, we will present feedback from Sea Grant outreach professionals on the skills they have expanded and the degree to which the skills can be used in climate outreach programming for the four Sea Grant focus areas: healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable coastal development, safe and sustainable seafood supply, and hazard resilience in coastal communities. This feedback can help inform the development of strategies for effective climate extension and climate service delivery. In the long term, the SGCN workshop will catalyze efforts that meet NOAA goals to increase climate literacy and expand the use of climate information and applied decision-making. As Sea Grant extension agents, communicators, and educators improve and expand upon their climate knowledge, they will become more effective conduits for flows of coastal climate information between NOAA line offices and the public by conducting decision-relevant public climate outreach and facilitating development of climate products tailored to user decision-making needs. As a result, coastal climate sensitive sectors and the climate literate public will be more likely to successfully incorporate NOAA's climate products into their plans and decisions.

Recorded presentation

Joint Session 14, Educational Outreach in the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Hydrologic Sciences
Monday, 18 January 2010, 1:30 PM-2:30 PM, B214

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