UCSC leads multicampus initiative on coastal resilience and climate adaptation

UC-funded initiative will bring together researchers at the Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and San Diego campuses to address pressing issues for California’s coastal communities

coastal cliffs
The new initiative brings together UC expertise in the science of coastal hazards, adaptation strategies, and coastal policy.
Borja Reguero
Borja Reguero

Experts in coastal science and policy at UC Santa Cruz are teaming up with researchers at UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, and the U.S. Geological Survey to address the many challenges of adapting to climate change along California’s coast.

The UC Coastal Resilience and Climate Adaptation Initiative is one of 15 research projects funded by UC’s 2021 Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives (MRPI) competition. These biannual awards are made by the UC Office of the President to support research and discoveries in fields important to UC and to the people, environment, and economy of California.

California’s iconic shoreline, from its communities and beaches to coastal wetlands and intertidal habitats, is increasingly threatened by coastal hazards such as extreme flooding and erosion associated with climate change, sea level rise, storms, and El Niño events. Addressing these challenges requires a multidisciplinary, science-based approach. Practical and effective solutions are needed to help communities address the accelerating social, economic, and environmental challenges driven by climate change.

The new initiative will develop a targeted research strategy for UC in solutions-focused coastal science and policy. Researchers will also engage with coastal communities, organize workshops, and review local adaptation planning cases.

Principal investigator Borja Reguero, an associate researcher in UCSC’s Institute of Marine Sciences and assistant adjunct professor in the Coastal Science and Policy Program, said the project provides an opportunity to build a more integrated system-wide, interdisciplinary network of UC expertise in coastal science, with the goal of informing coastal adaptation policy and decision-making in California and beyond.

“This project is another step to make the UC system a national and international leader in coastal science, providing a reference that can effectively inform climate change adaptation,” Reguero said.

The project leverages multidisciplinary expertise at the three UC campuses and the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, including UC expertise in the physical, ecological, and socio-economic dimensions of coastal zones in a changing climate. The participation of the USGS center will advance collaboration and connections in coastal science between UC and the federal government.

“One of the strengths of this project is the integrated approach, combining expertise in coastal science and policy,” said Adam Young at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

The team will review the current understanding of coastal hazard impacts and the strengths of UC campuses, convene scientific experts, and coordinate with communities and other stakeholders.

The UC MRPI pilot award provides $280,000 over two years, including support for graduate student researchers. The initiative will support other seed projects and cultivate dialogue between students, coastal scientists, decision-makers, and communities at risk. The outcomes will inform solutions driven by local needs and contexts.

“California has a legacy of coastal protection, but climate change and sea level rise presents a daunting and existential challenge to so many things we love—our amazing beaches, rich wetland systems, and vibrant coastal communities,” said Charles Lester, director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Center at the Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara and former executive director of the California Coastal Commission. “This project is an opportunity to bring physical and social science together to help California stay resilient in the face of climate change, so that all Californians can continue to live, enjoy, and thrive along our coast.”