J9.6 Comparing climate extension approaches to catalyze climate change adaptation planning in Charleston, SC, and Plymouth, NC

Monday, 24 January 2011: 5:15 PM
618-620 (Washington State Convention Center)
Jessica C. Whitehead, South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium & North Carolina Sea Grant, Charleston, SC; and A. Turner, R. H. Bacon, G. Putnam, J. F. Thigpen, and M. Covi

Despite increasing awareness of and support for climate adaptation measures in coastal areas, adaptation planning at the municipal level is not widespread. Adaptation planning is proceeding in large cities with numerous resources (e.g., New York City, NY) or in municipalities that have successfully leveraged national and regional supporting programs (e.g., the partnership between King County, WA, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, and the Climate Impacts Group; the partnership between Punta Gorda, FL, and the EPA's Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program). South Carolina Sea Grant and North Carolina Sea Grant demonstrate that locally based climate extension methodologies can provide the initial information coastal communities need to begin adaptation planning, even in communities where climate change alone is not sufficient motivation for adaptation planning. Through two demonstration projects in the City of Charleston, SC, and the Town of Plymouth, NC, awareness of existing flooding problems was an entry point for discussions of sea level rise and its impacts on municipal infrastructure. In this presentation, we compare and contrast the approaches used in each community to elicit knowledge about climate change and develop subsequent communication strategies that catalyze adaptation planning. We discuss the results in terms of insights on adaptation perspectives from communities of two different sizes: Charleston (estimated 2008 population 112,000) and Plymouth (estimated 2008 population 3,900).

Both the Charleston and Plymouth projects are rapid response projects funded under the National Sea Grant Office Coastal Communities Climate Adaptation Initiative, funded in May 2010 for mandatory completion by October 2010. Key stakeholders – the City of Charleston and the Town of Plymouth – contributed as partners from the proposal stage forward, ensuring that results incorporate decision-makers' perspectives in ways that will positively contribute to feasible adaptation planning processes in the future. The municipal partners drove the selection of sea level rise map themes, based on their experience in each place. Local academic partners created sea level rise scenario maps using lidar-derived base elevation data. In Charleston, these maps were created by partners at the College of Charleston, in consultation with similar mapping efforts at the NOAA Coastal Services Center. To meet the needs of planners, the Charleston maps focus on sea level rise scenarios and the locations of structures and critical infrastructure. In Plymouth, the Renaissance Computing Institute at East Carolina University produced maps that emphasize historical changes along the Roanoke River shoreline, helping to ground the discussion of future riverine shoreline change in the context of observed changes.

Here, the two projects diverged in methodology. In Charleston, we used focus groups with city staff to explore perceptions of sea level rise in Charleston, barriers to taking adaptive action, and preferred approaches for accessing the information from the sea level rise maps. The focus group approach helped to capitalize on the interactions between professional staff members of a medium-sized city who are involved in producing information that aids decision-making at higher levels of municipal management. In Plymouth, the town has a smaller planning and management staff, and community leaders have a strong role in influencing public acceptance of town policies. Consequently, N.C. Sea Grant and ECU partners conducted interviews with town managers and important community leaders, giving us the necessary baseline of community members' knowledge, attitudes, and personal behavior towards adaptation to assist the town with developing local, comprehensive, and acceptable strategies. We synthesized the qualitative results with the sea level rise maps and reported to the municipal project partners. In both Charleston and Plymouth, the results helped us tailor our presentations so planners and other important city decision-makers and opinion leaders could easily access and understand sea level rise information. As work with these municipalities continues, results from our initial efforts are proving to be an important first step toward catalyzing adaptation planning in areas where climate change alone may not motivate communities to act.

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