85th AMS Annual Meeting

Tuesday, 11 January 2005: 4:00 PM
Reducing Coastal Hazards: Putting Engineering, Technology and Science to Work
Jerry R. Schubel, Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, CA
Reducing Coastal Hazards: Putting Engineering, Technology and Science to Work

Panel Chair: Dr. Jerry R. Schubel, President of the Aquarium of the Pacific. Panelists will include: Dr. Elbert W. Friday, Jr., former Director of the U.S. National Weather Service and Past President of the American Meteorological Society; Dr. Steve Lyons, meteorologist and Tropical Weather Expert on The Weather Channel; Dr. Lundie Spence, Director of the SouthEast Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence; Spencer Rogers, P.E., Sea Grant Extension Specialist on Coastal Construction and Erosion; and perhaps a “mystery guest.”

The hazards of living in the coastal zone are clear, imminent, and growing. An exciting new ocean observing system, IOOS, has been proposed which, if implemented, would provide data to develop the information needed to better forecast the nature, magnitude, and the timing of those hazards and which could produce the understanding upon which wiser policies and actions could be taken to reduce the risks of those hazards. Data, information, understanding, wise policies, and smart actions form the value chain for reducing risks from coastal hazards including winds, waves, storm surges, and erosion associated with coastal storms and flooding.

Our ability to forecast “ocean weather” more reliably and with longer lead times is becoming increasingly important. A huge investment in a sustained Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) is called for by the draft U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report published in 2004. The report states that an investment in IOOS of $1.7 billion over a five year startup and $500 million/year on a continuing basis thereafter is justified by the savings associated with reductions in the loss of human life and property that could be realized. To date IOOS is a relatively narrow system driven primarily by scientists who want data. This is necessary, but not sufficient. For IOOS to be successful and sustainable there must be a broad base of community supporters and users that includes not only scientists, but also resource managers, emergency responders, policy makers, private industry, educators, officials responsible for homeland security, marine operators, shippers, fishers, sailors, and surfers. These communities want and need information. Information comes from data, but the two are different, and information that is useful to one group is of little value to another.

Hazards in the coastal zone are increasing because of increased frequency and intensity of coastal storms superimposed upon a rising sea. And, more people are at risk because of growing coastal populations around the world. The risk is particularly great in large coastal cities in the developing world. Those cities account for an increasing percentage of all major coastal cities in the world, and of the world’s total urban population. The developed world’s financial and scientific, engineering and technological resources will allow its cities to respond more effectively to the risks from increasing coastal hazards than cities in the developing world. At the core of any effective strategy is good information.

Better data require technological and scientific advances and a major commitment to the development and maintenance of an integrated network of national ocean observing systems. The system recommended for the U.S., IOOS, calls for an on-going investment comparable to the investment our nation has made in the U.S. National Weather Service.

IOOS would produce data; lots of interesting and important data. Scientists want data, but unless those data are transformed into informational products tailored to the needs of a variety of different user groups, the proposed federal investment in IOOS cannot be justified. The informational products must be packaged and distributed to different communities of users. Once delivered, the information must be consumed to raise awareness and deepen understanding of the nature and magnitude of risks of coastal hazards and how to respond to those risks. For some users, interpreters and expositors will be needed. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy points out that the Nation is fortunate to have Sea Grant with its research, education and outreach components and that the model should be enhanced and expanded.

Greater understanding provides the intellectual capital for making wise decisions. But, even with better data and information and greater understanding and wisdom, a critical element is still missing. We need institutional mechanisms to enhance the probability that actions of individuals and governments at all levels will use this information, understanding and wisdom to reduce, or to at least manage, the increased risks of loss of life and property from coastal hazards.

The “Value Chain” for reducing risks from coastal hazards is Better Data --> Better Information --> Greater Understanding --> Wiser Policies --> Smart Actions by Individuals and Governments at All Levels.

In this panel a group of experts will explore how to define the kinds of information that could be generated from IOOS data that would be most useful to different customers, how to design informational products that are accurate and user-friendly, how to distribute them so that they are timely and valuable, and what strategies would facilitate the incorporation of better information and greater scientific understanding into the formulation of wiser policies and actions. We will also explore the obstacles that must be overcome to make the reducing coastal hazards “value chain proposition” a reality.

Supplementary URL: