View a printable PDF of this story.

View an accessible PDF of this story.

In a 5-year, $930,000 project funded by Oregon Sea Grant, researchers from Oregon State University worked with an advisory council to develop scenario-based computer simulations that policymakers can use to help communities in Clatsop, Tillamook and Lincoln counties prepare for earthquakes, tsunamis, erosion and sea level rise.

The council, which provided input on which scenarios to forecast, included representatives from Surfrider Foundation; Consejo Hispano; Oregon’s departments of emergency management, transportation, and land conservation and development; and other entities.

The researchers coupled land-use policies, such as restricting new development in areas prone to flooding, with forecasted scenarios for sea level rise. They also looked at various budget scenarios and how risk might be mitigated if dollars were directed to certain communities. They plugged these policies and scenarios into their modeling software and explored what would happen in the event of different natural disasters. The goal is to support identification and development of resilience strategies for coastal communities.

The team, which included two Oregon Sea Grant Extension specialists, also looked at equity issues. In focus groups, Hispanic participants were asked where they would go in times of need and why. Hospitals, fire stations, schools, churches, resource centers and places of employment made the list. Researchers mapped these locations in relation to tsunami flood zones. They are also using this information in their modeling. The aim is to show how specific policies may or may not lessen how natural disasters disproportionately impact vulnerable populations.

The project has produced about 30 presentations and over a dozen publications. One paper estimated how long it may take damaged roads and bridges on the Oregon coast to reopen after a major earthquake and tsunami and how long it might take supplies from airports to be driven to towns. For example, it’s expected that travel times in Waldport would return to near normal (defined as 1.3 times longer than before the disaster) in about two years, whereas those in Florence would take less than a year.

Another paper used scenarios for land-use regulations, the pace of erosion, and sea level rise to estimate rates at which landowners in Tillamook and Lincoln counties might shore up their oceanfront properties with boulders, also known as armoring. The simulations showed that if the state’s Goal 18, which is a ban on armoring beachfront property developed after 1976, were no longer in place, armoring would increase nearly 70% over 40 years. When forecasts for sea level rise are added to that, armoring would increase by an additional 5% during that time.

A third paper estimated that the option to armor properties with eroding shorelines made them worth an average of 13% more than similar properties that were prohibited from armoring. If the parcels were also at a below-average elevation, they were worth an average of 22% more than similar properties that couldn’t armor. A fourth paper recommended that researchers use an equity lens in their modeling.

Because of our initial investment in this project, the researchers and others received a 5-year, $19 million grant from the National Science Foundation in 2021, resulting in a robust return on investment for Oregon. The additional funding has allowed the project to expand to Washington, northern California and all of the Oregon coast. Oregon Sea Grant is a partner in this collaborative research hub.

Text current as of January 2024. Written by Tiffany Woods.