Preparing for Climate Change in Oregon Estuaries: Flooding, Ecological Impacts, and an Integrated Approach toward Adaptive Management (2014-16)

David Hill
School of Civil and Construction Engineering
Oregon State University
220 Owen Hall
Corvallis, OR 97331
Phone: 541-737-4939

Co-PIs: Sally Hacker, OSU; Jonathan Allan, DOGAMI

Natural hazards have always threatened communities along the Oregon coast. Coastal erosion caused by storms and long-term sea level rise increases that threat. Research suggests that a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake – considered almost inevitable – could generate a destructive and life-threatening tsunami. These hazards are magnified by planning and land-use development practices that have not fully considered geologic hazards.

Low-lying areas and adjacent estuaries are highly susceptible to increased destruction as erosion processes and flood hazards intensify. Besides being remarkably productive socio-economically, Pacific Northwest estuaries are ecologically essential. The region's most important fisheries, including salmon, Dungeness crab, and oysters, all depend on the health of its estuaries. While numerous recent studies have examined the effects of sea level rise and other climate-driven processes on Oregon's open coast, estuaries have received very little study, despite their importance.

Understanding how Oregon's estuaries will respond to such climate-change effects will help local, state and federal  planning and regulatory efforts. By conducting a pilot study of two major estuaries, Coos Bay and Tillamook Bay, Dr. Hill’s research team will develop a suite of 'best practice' approaches scalable to the entire region. A major element of this study aims to develop a range of flood inundation mapping products to show how rising sea level may affect coastal communities and critical estuarine species and habitats. 

Dr. Hill’s team will also use ecological niche models to predict eelgrass, oyster and tidal wetland distribution using correlated estuarine conditions and current species distribution maps. Collaboration with stakeholders will inform the project with local knowledge, data and priorities. The resulting products will be distributed both to scientific and general audiences, helping to ensure that this knowledge is incorporated into local planning efforts.

Strategic Plan Focus Areas: Resilient Communities and Economies

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