UW News

September 7, 2021

Research, education hub on ‘coastal resiliency’ will focus on earthquakes, coastal erosion and climate change

exterior of elementary school

Ocosta Elementary School in Grays Harbor County, Washington, is home to the first tsunami vertical evacuation center in North America, completed in 2016.NOAA


The National Science Foundation has funded a multi-institutional team led by Oregon State University and the University of Washington to work on increasing resiliency among Pacific Northwest coastal communities.

The new Cascadia Coastlines and Peoples Hazards Research Hub will serve coastal communities in Northern California, Oregon and Washington. The hub’s multidisciplinary approach will span geoscience, social science, public policy and community partnerships.

The Pacific Northwest coastline is at significant risk of earthquakes from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, an offshore fault that stretches more than 600 miles from Cape Mendocino in California to southern British Columbia. The region also faces ongoing risks from coastal erosion, regional flooding and rising seas due to climate change.

The newly established Cascadia CoPes Hub, based at OSU, will increase the capacity of coastal communities to adapt through community engagement and co-production of research, and by training a new generation of coastal hazards scientists and leaders from currently underrepresented communities.

The initial award is for $7.2 million over the first two years, with the bulk split between OSU and the UW. The total award, subject to renewals, is $18.9 million over five years.

“This issue requires a regional approach,” said co-principal investigator Ann Bostrom, a UW professor of public policy and governance. “This new research hub has the potential to achieve significant advances across the hazard sciences — from the understanding of governance systems, to having a four-dimensional understanding of Cascadia faults and how they work, and better understanding the changing risks of compound fluvial-coastal flooding, to new ways of engaging with communities to co-produce research that will be useful for coastal planning and decisions in our region. There are a lot of aspects built into this project that have us all excited.”

The community collaborations, engagement and outreach will focus on five areas: Humboldt County, California; greater Coos Bay, Oregon; Newport to Astoria, Oregon; Tokeland to Taholah, Washington; and from Everett to Bellingham, Washington.

“We have a lot to learn from the communities in our region, and part of the proposal is to help communities learn from each other, as well,” Bostrom said.

tsunami warning sign on the beach

A new research hub at the University of Washington and Oregon State University, funded by the National Science Foundation, will study coastal hazards and how communities can boost their resiliency.Oregon State University

The Cascadia hub is part of the NSF’s newly announced Coastlines and People Program, an effort to help coastal communities become more resilient in the face of mounting environmental pressures. Nearly 40% of the U.S. population lives in a coastal county. The NSF established one other large-scale hub for research and broadening participation, in New Jersey, and focused hubs in Texas, North Carolina and Virginia.

The Cascadia hub will focus on two broad areas: advancing understanding of the risks of Cascadia earthquakes and other geological hazards to coastal regions; and reducing disaster risk through assessment, planning and policymaking.

“We’re not thinking only about the possibility of one magnitude-9 earthquake; this effort is about the fabric of hazards over time,” said co-principal investigator Harold Tobin, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences and director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. “The heart of this project is merging physical science and social science with a community focus in an integrated way — translating scientific discovery with actions that coastal communities can use.”

The project intentionally emphasizes incorporating traditional ecological knowledge from the region’s Native American tribes as well as local ecological knowledge from fishers, farmers and others who have personal history and experience with coastal challenges.

Read more on Errett’s role pairing Pacific Northwest scientists with coastal communities

“We are committed to co-producing research together with coastal communities and integrating multiple perspectives about disaster risk and its management,” said Nicole Errett, an assistant professor in UW’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, who is co-leading the hub’s Community Adaptive Capacity and Community Engagement and Outreach teams.

“There are many dimensions to resilience, including economics, health, engineering and more,” said principal investigator Peter Ruggiero, a professor at OSU. “This research hub is a way to bring together a lot of groups with interest in coastal resilience who have not had the resources to work together on these issues.”

The research hub’s other principal investigators are Alison Duvall, a UW associate professor of Earth and space sciences who will lead efforts to quantify the timing, triggers and effects of landslide hazards on communities and on landscape evolution, and Dwaine Plaza, a professor of sociology at OSU. The other institutional partners are Washington Sea Grant, Oregon Sea Grant, University of Oregon, Washington State University, Humboldt State University, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Georgia Tech University and Arizona State University.


For more information, contact Bostrom at abostrom@uw.edu, Ruggiero at 541-737-1239 or peter.ruggiero@oregonstate.edu and Tobin at htobin@uw.edu. See related press releases from OSU and Humboldt State University.